Former Tory peer jailed for expenses fraud

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The Independent Online

Lord Taylor, once one of the most promising Tory politicians of his generation, was jailed for a year yesterday for defrauding the taxpayer of more than £11,000.

He was convicted by a jury in January, but the judge delayed passing sentence until the end of the trial of Lord Hanningfield, another expenses fiddling, and formerly Conservative, peer.

John Taylor was the first black politician selected to contest a winnable Commons seat for the Conservatives. Later, he was the first black Tory peer, and the youngest Tory peer. Now he has another two "firsts" to his career. He is the first Conservative and the first member of the House of Lords jailed during the expenses scandal.

But, unlike the four Labour MPs imprisoned for their parts in the scandal, Taylor need not necessarily feel that his political career is over. An anachronism in the British constitution says that a life peer is a life peer, no matter what. He will continue to be Lord Taylor of Warwick while he is in prison, and will be entitled to resume his seat in the Lords when he is released in a few months. If he had been an MP, he would have been automatically expelled from the Commons.

Taylor had denied fraud, claiming that he had been told by a fellow peer that he was entitled to claim travel costs and an overnight allowance despite living in London. But the jury at Southwark Crown Court decided that he knew from the start that he was committing fraud. He had told the House of Lords that he lived in Oxford, at an address he had visited only twice and where he had never stayed overnight. It was the home of his nephew, Robert Taylor.

Passing sentence yesterday, Mr Justice Saunders said: "Lord Taylor did not tell Robert Taylor what he was doing but did ask him whether he could have correspondence sent there. He told Robert Taylor that he was concerned that his wife might intercept correspondence which went to his home address. That was untrue. The real reason was that Lord Taylor feared that if correspondence was sent there by the House of Lords it might be returned and the fact that Lord Taylor did not live there would be discovered."

Taylor had an outstanding professional and political career until the fraud was exposed. The son of a professional cricketer, Derief Taylor, who played briefly for Warwickshire, John Taylor was head boy at his local grammar school, and qualified as a barrister in 1978, aged 26.

In 1990, the Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, hired him as a special adviser, and he was adopted as the Tory candidate for Cheltenham, then a Conservative-held seat. The selection of a black man, with the direct intervention of Conservative Central Office, created a scandal locally. One man was expelled from the Conservative Association for using racist language to describe Mr Taylor. In the 1992 election, Cheltenham was taken by the Liberal Democrats.

A disappointed Taylor was made a life peer by John Major in 1996. An evangelical Christian, he set up the Warwick Leadership Foundation to teach leadership skills to young people from disadvantaged communities. "He has been a role model to many," Mr Justice Saunders said.

In December 2009, as the expenses scandal was threatening to engulf him, Taylor married for the second time. The official photographer at his lavish wedding was his nephew, Robert, who would be giving evidence against him a year later.

After their honeymoon, Taylor followed his new wife, Yvonne Louise, to her home in Florida, but within a month she had thrown him out, and sought an annulment. "He is an incredible actor, the best liar... Everything he does is for money," she said in an interview later.

The website of the Warwick Leadership Foundation was still online yesterday, its home page adorned by a picture of Taylor, dressed in ermine. At the bottom of the page was the quotation: "The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it." Unfortunately for Taylor, he didn't.

Other members of Parliament charged over expenses

David Chaytor, Labour, MP for Bury North, 1997-2010

Pleaded guilty on 7 January. Scale of fraud: £18,350. Sentence: 18 months. Released on 26 May.

Lord Taylor of Warwick, Conservative, life peer since 1996

Convicted on 25 January. Scale of fraud: £11,278. Sentenced 31 May: one year.

Jim Devine, Labour, MP for Livingston, 2005-10

Convicted on 31 March. Scale of fraud: £8,385. Sentence: 16 months.

Eric Illsley, Labour, MP for Barnsley Central, 1987-2011

Pleaded guilty on 10 February. Scale of fraud: £14,000. Sentence: one year. Released on 13 May.

Elliot Morley, Labour, MP for Scunthorpe, 1987-2010

Pleaded guilty on 7 April. Scale of fraud: £32,000. Sentenced 20 May: 16 months.

Lord Hanningfield, Conservative, life peer since 1998

Convicted on 26 May. Scale of fraud: £13,808. Awaiting sentence.