Lying ex-MP Jim Devine jailed over expenses

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The Independent Online

An expenses cheat MP who "carried on regardless" in the face of public anger over the practice was branded a liar by a judge as he was jailed for 16 months today.

Jim Devine, 57, submitted false invoices totalling £8,385 between 2008 and 2009 - after politicians' claims had already become "front page news".

Today bankrupt Devine became the third MP to be jailed in the wake of the expenses scandal when he was sentenced at the Old Bailey.

He told his Southwark Crown Court trial that he was acting on advice given with a "nod and a wink" by a fellow MP in a House of Commons bar.

But his defence was rejected by the jury and the judge said he had been "lying in significant parts of the evidence he gave".

Devine's barrister Gavin Millar QC said Devine had worked "tirelessly" as a union organiser and politician to help the less fortunate in society and was not a "self-interested or attention-seeking career politician".

But Mr Justice Saunders pointed out that he committed his offences at a time when the public were "already making clear the sense of outrage they felt" about MPs' abuse of expenses.

He said: "Mr Devine set about defrauding the public purse in a calculated and deliberate way.

"These offences constituted a gross breach of trust which, along with others, had had the effect of causing serious damage to the reputation of Parliament.

"Mr Devine made his false claims at a time when he well knew the damage that was being caused to Parliament by the expenses scandal, but he carried on regardless."

The former Labour MP for Livingston also tried to pin the blame on his former office manager Marion Kinley, claiming she had paid herself more than £5,000 from his staffing allowance without his knowledge.

Devine was said to have run into financial difficulties at the time of his offences, after suspending her and having to hire a new member of staff.

He told a pub landlord that he was being "stitched up" by a former secretary.

But the judge said he had little sympathy for his claims. Ms Kinley was later awarded £35,000 for unfair dismissal by an employment tribunal.

During Devine's trial, prosecutor Peter Wright QC asked him about his defence: "Are you just making this up as you go along?"

He said he was not but jurors disagreed and convicted Devine, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, on two charges of false accounting last month.

The judge said cleaning and maintenance work claimed for by Devine was either not done at all or not paid for by Devine, and invoices submitted for printing work were "entirely bogus".

Mr Millar said the former MP was the only Scottish parliamentarian to be charged over the expenses scandal.

"That has meant he has been the sole focus of the opprobrium in Scotland and the embodiment of what is known as the rotten parliament, north of the border."

Devine, who suffered from high blood pressure, had been forced to go "ducking and diving" at different locations in England and Ireland because of press attention, Mr Millar added.

A hearing to decide on £40,699.01 legal costs will be held at a later date, although Devine is unlikely to have to pay them as he has been declared bankrupt since his conviction.

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Hopefully this sentence will also go some way towards restoring public confidence in Parliament, after it was so badly damaged by the expenses scandal."

Devine, a former psychiatric nurse and union organiser, was chairman of the Scottish Labour Party in the 1990s and later succeeded Robin Cook as MP for Livingston following the ex-foreign secretary's death.

He was barred from standing again as a Labour candidate after the allegations of abuses emerged but continued to claim hundreds of pounds for household costs even after he was charged.

Devine was the first MP to stand trial in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Two other former Labour members, David Chaytor and Eric Illsley, have already been jailed after pleading guilty.

Chaytor lost an appeal against his 18-month sentence last week for falsely claiming more than £22,000 of taxpayers' money for rent and IT work.

Illsley was jailed for a year last month for dishonestly obtaining £14,500 in second home claims.

Former Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick awaits sentencing after being convicted by a jury in January of falsely claiming more than £11,000 for travel and overnight subsistence.