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Lord Taylor of Warwick guilty of fiddling expenses

A former Tory peer was today found guilty of fiddling his expenses to claim more than £11,000 from the public purse.

Lord Taylor of Warwick falsely filed for travel and overnight subsistence, a jury at Southwark Crown Court decided by a majority of 11 to one.

The 58-year-old told the House of Lords members' expenses office that his main residence was in Oxford, when he lived in west London.

Taylor, whose first name is John, was the first parliamentarian to be tried and found guilty by a jury over the expenses scandal.

The jury of seven men and five women took just over five hours to reach their majority verdict that Taylor, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, made £11,277.80-worth of claims on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.

Eleven jurors agreed with the prosecutor Helen Law, who said during the trial: "Lord Taylor did not have a main home in Oxford and he was not entitled to claim as if he did.

"He knew that and he claimed anyway. He did so in a way that he knew would mislead the members' expenses section into making payments he wasn't entitled to.

"His actions were dishonest."

The property in Oxford was where his half-nephew Robert Taylor lived with his partner Tristram Wyatt, who owned the house.

Taylor said throughout his trial that all he needed was a "family connection" to a property to call it a main residence on his claim forms.

He also maintained he was following the advice given to him by fellow peers, that nominating a residence outside of the capital was a way to earn money "in lieu of salary". One lord, he said, told him he would be "crazy" not to.

Taylor never stayed in the Oxford property, and had no legal or financial interest in it.

His half nephew told the court from the witness box that he doubted the motives of his relative when he found out he had used his address.

Robert Taylor said: "I was shocked. I was quite angry, actually, because I had always wondered why he had been quite so friendly, because we didn't on the face of it have a lot in common.

"At the point where we were being doorstepped by the media, I suddenly realised that maybe his wasn't actually a real friendship at all."

After the jury foreman delivered the guilty verdicts, Mohammed Khamisa QC, Taylor's defence barrister, urged Mr Justice Saunders to adjourn the case.

The judge said: "I will adjourn the matter, certainly for a report to be prepared.

"I obviously don't want to adjourn it for too long. It's not fair on Lord Taylor."

Taylor was granted unconditional bail and sentencing will take place in due course.

He stood impassively, looking straight ahead as the guilty verdicts were read out, but on leaving the dock Taylor appeared visibly shaken and steadied himself on the front of the bench.

He slowly left the court room and his legal team ushered him into a side room.

The disgraced lord left the court building about 50 minutes after the verdict under the cover of a black umbrella.

Members of the press asked him if he wanted to comment but he remained silent and got into a waiting black taxi.

Eddie Tang, a lawyer representing Taylor, spoke on his behalf outside court.

He said: "Lord Taylor has devoted 20 years of his life to public service.

"He is clearly devastated about the jury's verdict."

Stephen O'Doherty from the Crown Prosecution Service special crime division, said: "No one could sincerely believe that a home in which they had no financial interest, had never lived in and had scarcely visited could count as their main residence, or that it was permissible to claim for driving between Oxford and Parliament when they had not done so.

"Yet Lord Taylor claimed exactly that and landed the taxpayer with a bill of more than £11,000.

"Today, a jury has seen through his dishonesty by finding him guilty of theft by false accounting. He will now face the consequences of his actions."

Taylor is set to remain a member of the Upper House despite his conviction.

Although successive ministers have proposed reforms so errant peers could be expelled, there is currently no such mechanism.

The House of Lords website states that a peerage "can only be removed by an Act of Parliament".

"Members convicted of a crime and sent to jail cannot sit due to their imprisonment but do not lose their peerage or membership (ie sitting and voting resumes when the custodial sentence finishes)," the website adds.

The last time a title was removed was in 1917, when peers who had committed treason by fighting against Britain in the First World War were stripped of their status.

It is also not permitted for peers to resign from the House - although they can apply for a leave of absence.

Taylor became the first black Conservative peer when he took his seat in the House of Lords in 1996, following a failed attempt to get elected as MP for Cheltenham in 1992.

A House of Lords spokesman confirmed that Lord Taylor had not yet repaid any of the money he claimed wrongly.

The first claim was for £1,555.70, the second for £2,042.80, the third was £1,600.70, the fourth £2,309.50, the fifth £2,421.80, and the final claim was for £1,347.30.