Former MP Eric Illsley jailed for expenses fraud

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A former Labour MP was jailed today and a second is facing a prison sentence after both were convicted of fiddling their parliamentary expenses.

Eric Illsley, 55, was jailed for 12 months for dishonestly obtaining some £14,500 of taxpayers' money and Jim Devine, 57, was found guilty of making false claims worth more than £8,000.

Illsley, who stood down this week as the MP for Barnsley Central, received an average of £100 a week more than he was entitled over a three-year period.

His fraud only came to an end when the Commons authorities changed their rules to require MPs to provide receipts for all claims over £25.

Devine, the former Labour MP for Livingston in Scotland, was convicted of two charges of false accounting after he submitted false invoices for cleaning and printing work totalling £8,385.

A jury at London's Southwark Crown Court agreed with the prosecution that he showed a "woeful inadequacy" in abiding by the principles of selflessness, integrity and honesty expected of MPs.

Illsley became the first sitting member of Parliament convicted of expenses fraud when he pleaded guilty last month to three counts of false accounting relating to expenses on his London second home.

Despite huge pressure he did not quit as an MP until Tuesday night, and is believed to have received about £5,400 from his £65,000-a-year parliamentary salary since admitting the offences.

The former MP admitted to probation officers that he did not need the extra money he falsely claimed and attributed his actions to greed, Southwark Crown Court heard today.

Illsley dishonestly received about £14,500 of public money between May 2005 and April 2008 by inflating or inventing claims relating to his second home in Dryden Court, Renfrew Road, Kennington, south London.

Over this period MPs only had to provide receipts for expenses claims over £250, but this amount was cut to £25 in April 2008.

Prosecutor Peter Wright QC said there was a "dramatic reduction" in the amount Illsley claimed after this time.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Saunders said Illsley bore a small but significant part of the responsibility for the public's loss of faith in MPs following the expenses scandal.

He said: "These offences were committed in breach of what was the high degree of trust placed in MPs by the authorities in the House of Commons only to make honest claims.

"Beyond that, the commission of the offences which came to light as a result of the police investigation into parliamentary expenses has tarnished the reputation of politicians and Parliament.

"It is vital that people feel able to trust our legislators and their use of public funds."

William Coker QC, mitigating, said Illsley had suffered from the "publicity, the humiliation and the shame" of the expenses scandal.

He said: "If you apply a matter of simple physics, the higher a man is when he falls, the harder he hits the ground."

Illsley, of Westmoor Crescent, Pogmoor, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, showed little reaction as he was sentenced.

Wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and a blue tie with red spots, he waved over his shoulder to a friend in the public gallery as he was taken down to the cells.

Illsley is expected to start his sentence in Wandsworth Prison in south London, but could be released after three months under early release rules for non-violent prisoners who pose a low risk.

Devine, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, who was the first MP to stand trial over the expenses scandal, will be sentenced at a later date.

Former Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick, 58, is also awaiting sentence after being found guilty by a jury last month of falsely claiming more than £11,000 from the public purse for travel and overnight subsistence between March 2006 and October 2007.

He told the House of Lords members' expenses office that his main residence was in Oxford when he actually lived in west London.

Former Labour MP David Chaytor, 61, last month became the first person to be jailed over the expenses scandal.

He was given an 18-month sentence after admitting he forged tenancy documents and invoices to falsely claim more than £22,000 of taxpayers' money from House of Commons authorities for rent and IT work.

Former Scunthorpe Labour MP Elliot Morley and former Tory peer Lord Hanningfield are due to stand trial over their expenses in the coming months.