Morley gets 16 months' jail for expenses fraud

Elliot Morley, the most senior politician to face trial over the expenses scandal was sentenced yesterday to 16 months in jail for fiddling more than £30,000.

The former Labour MP, who has been praised by environmentalist as one of the best "green" ministers to serve in any British government, left court in a prison van, a man ruined by what his lawyer, Jim Sturman QC, described as "an absolutely ridiculous and inexplicable course of criminal conduct". Mr Morley sat hunched in the crowded courtroom during the two-hour hearing, and twice wiped tears away. Once was after Mr Sturman had pointed out his client was facing judgment alone, because he did not want his wife and children to have to pass the cameras outside the court.

He was also reduced to tears after Mr Sturman had read from a tribute to his ministerial career by The Independent's Environment Editor, Michael McCarthy, written soon after he had been exposed as an expenses cheat.

Mr Morley pleaded guilty to the largest fraud by any MP to come before the courts, but drew a comparatively light sentence, partly because the crime was so unsophisticated.

He was entitled under Commons rules to reclaim the interest paid on the mortgage on his second home, near Scunthorpe. For three and a half years he submitted claims for £800 a month, which, despite written requests from the Fees Office, were never backed by any documents.

Between May 2004 and February 2009, the mortgage he was paying varied between £52 and £5.85 a month. In February 2009, the mortgage was paid off, and Mr Morley was told in writing by his building society that there was no longer a charge on the property. But he carried on claiming, and the Fees Office carried on paying, despite the absence of any evidence to back his claim, until he had defrauded taxpayers of more than £30,000.

He rapidly repaid the money after the fraud was uncovered by the Daily Telegraph in May 2009, explaining he was "horrified" to have discovered he had committed "an embarrassing and inadvertent oversight". But passing sentence, Mr Justice Saunders said: "I am satisfied from the nature of the mortgage transactions and the correspondence that the excessive claims were made deliberately and are not explicable, even in part, by oversight."

Mr Morley was Labour MP for Scunthorpe from 1987 to 2010, and served for nine years as an environment minister, before being abruptly sacked in 2006 after a dispute with the treasury about government policy on climate change.

Mr Sturman pointed out that, at the age of 59, Morley faced an "uncertain future". Because of his dishonesty, he has forfeited the £64,000 resettlement grant he would have received after 23 years in Parliament, and faced heavy legal costs. Mr Sturman added that his client would have difficulty finding work after leaving prison.

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Morley's jail sentence is justice for taxpayers who he cheated and stole from. The damage done by the MPs' expenses scandal is still being repaired and it will take time to restore the public's trust."

'The truth about Elliot Morley'

The following is from a piece published in May 2009 by Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor of The Independent, that was used as mitigating evidence during Morley's hearing yesterday

*In the course of reporting on the environment for The Independent, I have observed every Labour environment minister since 1997, and I have no doubt at all that the one who has done the most to protect the natural world is Elliot Morley.

Mr Morley spent nine years in office, from 1997 to 2006, continually dealing with green issues, and, in all that time, he was on what environmentalists would instinctively think of as the right side of the argument.

He sought to follow the advice of scientists concerned about fish stocks; he was an outspoken opponent of commercial whaling; he was a firm supporter of the bill which banned foxhunting; he was a strong opponent of both GM crops and the reintroduction of nuclear power.

Most of all he became concerned about climate change – and it was that which did for his ministerial career. In trying to get other departments to meet Labour's ultimately unsuccessful target of a 20 per cent cut in carbon emissions, he incurred the enmity of a powerful figure in Downing Street who was not only the friend of heavy industry but who had the ear of Tony Blair – and Morley was sacked in May 2006.

This man spent all his long ministerial career defending the environment, and lost his job by trying too hard to save it. Say what you like. Cast what stones you want. This is the truth.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Louis van Gaal
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own