Former Tory peer jailed for nine months

A disgraced former Tory peer was jailed for nine months yesterday for fiddling his parliamentary expenses.

Lord Hanningfield, 70, falsely claimed nearly £14,000 for overnight stays in London when he was not in the capital. His expenses fiddling included one occasion in February 2008 when he was actually on board a flight to India.

In May he was found guilty of six counts of false accounting at Chelmsford Crown Court and yesterday he was sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court. Lord Hanningfield joins four ex-MPs and a fellow member of the Lords convicted of dishonestly obtaining thousands of pounds from the taxpayer by making false claims for allowances. Lord Hanningfield has lodged an appeal.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Saunders said he would now be partly remembered as a "benefits cheat". He said: "While there were ambiguities in the peers' expenses schemes which have resulted in its revision, it was clear from the terms of the scheme, as well as according with common sense, that a peer could not claim an overnight allowance to cover the expense of staying the night in London when he did not stay in London but went home.

"It was perfectly clear from the terms of the scheme, as well as according with common sense, that a peer could not claim for travelling expenses that he did not incur."

The judge said that Lord Hanningfield was not paid for the work he carried out in the House of Lords, but he refused to believe the extent to which he claimed he was out of pocket.

Lord Hanningfield, a former opposition frontbencher in the Lords and leader of Essex County Council, claimed £13,379 in parliamentary expenses for overnight stays in London when he was not in the capital.

The peer, a former pig farmer from West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, also fraudulently claimed £382 in train fares and £147 in mileage by doubling the seven-mile distance from his house to the railway station.

The shamed peer insisted his parliamentary duties left him thousands of pounds out of pocket and said he "averaged out" his claims to recoup some of the money he spent.