MP Eric Illsley faces jail term after admitting expenses fraud

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The Independent Online

Eric Illsley was under pressure to resign last night after becoming the first sitting MP to be convicted of expenses fraud.

The disgraced MP appeared before Southwark Crown Court yesterday and admitted dishonestly claiming more than £14,000 in parliamentary expenses. During the five-minute hearing, Illsley, who has already been suspended by the Labour Party, spoke only to confirm his pleas, saying "guilty" to three charges of false accounting relating to three years of expenses on his second home in London.

Last night, David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband demanded the member for Barnsley Central go voluntarily after it emerged he could keep his job and salary even if a jail term is imposed. The Representation of the People Act 1981 disqualifies MPs if they receive a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. Their seat is automatically vacated and a by-election is held. However, there is no set mechanism for expelling members who are handed shorter jail terms.

"Eric Illsley has been found guilty of a very serious charge. He is no longer a Labour MP and I think he should now do the right thing and resign as an MP," said Mr Miliband, adding: "I do not think he can be a credible voice for his constituents, having pleaded guilty to such a serious offence."

Illsley, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was suspended from the Labour Party following the allegations and now sits as an independent after being re-elected in May's general election.

He had previously denied dishonestly claiming a total of more than £25,000 for council tax, telephone usage, service charges and maintenance, and insurance and repairs at his second home in Kennington, south London, arguing that lax Commons allowances were there to "supplement" the income of politicians.

But yesterday his barrister, William Coker QC, said his client admitted wrongly obtaining about £14,500, a revised sum which was accepted by the prosecution. The hearing was adjourned for four weeks for a pre-sentence report.

Simon Clements, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's special crime division, said: "This was a significant sum of money and the grossly inflated claims he submitted could not be attributed to an oversight or accounting error – indeed he claimed that the expenses system was a way of supplementing members' salaries.

"By his guilty pleas, he has accepted that he was dishonest in making these claims. As an elected representative, Eric Illsley took advantage of the trust placed in him by his constituents to act honourably on their behalf.

"Instead, he siphoned off public money into his own pockets and betrayed those who rightly expected the highest standards of integrity from him as a Member of Parliament."

The former Labour MP David Chaytor was sentenced to 18 months in prison last week after admitting he forged tenancy documents and invoices to falsely claim more than £22,000 of taxpayers' money for rent and IT work.

Yesterday, Commons authorities indicated that the whole House would need to pass a resolution to remove Illsley from his seat. Conservative MP Peter Baker is believed to be the last MP expelled after he was convicted of fraud in 1954.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said Mr Cameron's personal view was that it would be "untenable" for Illsley to continue in Parliament. "If someone has defrauded the people they are there to represent, that is quite an untenable position," the spokesman said. A senior party source added: "If he does not resign we will work with others to remove him from Parliament."

TaxPayers' Alliance spokesman, Matthew Sinclair, said: "Illsley should resign immediately and never stand as an MP again because he has admitted to abusing the public's trust so flagrantly."

Two down, four in line of fire

Two former Labour MPs and two former Tory peers are waiting to stand trial charged with false accounting.

Elliot Morley, the former Labour minister, will face a jury later in the spring accused of falsely claiming £30,428 on a mortgage he had already finished paying off.

Jim Devine, the former Labour MP for Livingston, is accused of submitting two misleading invoices for printing services totalling more than £5,000. He faces another charge of submitting false invoices for cleaning and maintenance work. Lord Hanningfield was suspended from the Conservative Party after being charged with dishonestly submitting claims "for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled". They included overnight stays in London.

Lord Taylor of Warwick, 58, another former Tory peer, is set to stand trial on six charges relating to claims worth around £1,000 for a "false" second home. All four men deny the charges.