Expenses peer Lord Hanningfield 'did work of four'

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The Independent Online

A Tory peer accused of expenses fraud told a court "I did the work of four frontbenchers" as he said he justified his claims.

Cross-examined at Chelmsford Crown Court, Lord Hanningfield was asked why he had claimed £27,000 to pay an assistant whose salary was in fact £12,000.

He said members of the House of Commons had been able to claim £130,000 a year for staffing costs but there was no such allowance for those in the House of Lords. He said he claimed extra in some expenses categories to mitigate for losses in others.

Lord Hanningfield said: "I was doing the job of four frontbenchers. On transport for example I was doing far more than you would in the House of Commons."

Asked if he made claims for journeys and accommodation in London on dates when he was in Essex because he felt the system was unfair, he answered: "I did it because all the other peers were doing it. I do know other peers who made similar claims but I will not name them."

He produced a biscuit tin which he claimed was full of receipts for meals and other expenses, mostly dating to 2003/4, which he could have claimed but did not.

"If you keep in mind that I have had a 40 year career, it adds up to tens of thousands of pounds," he said. "I kept them because I thought one day I might get round to claiming them."

He added: "I do not lead an extravagant lifestyle. Most of my clothes are from Marks & Spencer. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine but that's about it.

"I have no savings, no stocks and shares, nothing like that."

The former Lords opposition frontbencher and Essex County Council leader is alleged to have fraudulently claimed parliamentary expenses for hotels in London between March 2006 and April 2009 when he did not in fact stay overnight in the capital.

Lord Hanningfield, 70, who denies six counts of false accounting, earlier told the court he "quite honestly assumed" he could claim the maximum amount after learning that this was what 85% of peers did.

The peer, from West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, said he saw the money as a "living out of London allowance" rather than overnight subsistence.

Prosecution and defence speeches will be delivered tomorrow. The jury is expected to retire on Thursday.