MP's son admits £2,000 theft from Commons office

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The Independent Online

The teenage son of a Labour MP was warned he might be jailed for stealing more than £2,000 from one of his father's colleagues.

Malcolm Bell, the son of Stuart Bell, the MP for Middlesbrough, took blank cheques from the office of the left-wing firebrand George Galloway while working for his father as a researcher in the House of Commons.

The 19-year-old's larceny was an attempt to escape from "a life which wasn't quite of his choosing", Bow Street magistrates' court was told.

Elaine Sims, appearing for the prosecution, told the court that Bell went to work as usual on 31 August last year at Portcullis House, opposite the Houses of Parliament. But when he went into a neighbouring office of Geraldine Clerck, Mr Galloway's secretary, he took four cheques belonging to Finjan, a company associated with Mr Galloway, the MP for Glasgow Kelvin.

On the same day Bell made out one of the cheques for £350 to himself and paid it into a branch of HSBC bank. He then bought an Egyptian figurine over the internet for £1,788 using the name of Dr Mustafa. The teenager wrote out another of the stolen cheques and arranged for the statue to be delivered to his office in Westminster .

On 8 October he made out a further cheque payable to himself, for a sum of £500, but the bank returned it unpaid. He made a mistake in completing the fourth cheque and threw it away.

Police alerted to the theft searched Bell's home in Richmond upon Thames and found the Egyptian figurine on his mantelpiece. Bell admitted theft, obtaining property by deception, obtaining a money transfer by deception and attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception.

Mark Haslam, representing the defendant, said the teenager had been motivated by "financial reasons" but had also felt under a great deal of pressure. "He has been subject to a series of events which weren't of his making or choosing," he told the court.

District judge Penelope Hewitt said "glowing" character references from family and friends showed he had acted out of desperation.

She said: "The way he has behaved is as though he was trying to escape from his life which wasn't quite of his choosing. He saw this as a way out, albeit a foolish way out because it was almost inevitable without any shadow of a doubt that he would be caught.

"One does wonder whether or not he wanted to be caught. It's quite clear from all the people who have written that they are all deeply fond of him and were very shocked by what he has done."

The judge told Bell the matter was "very serious" and added: "All sentencing options are open." She said community service was the most likely sentence but she would not rule out a jail term.

Judge Hewitt told Bell, who arrived at court dressed in a black suit but was not accompanied by his father, that he should be "brutally frank" with his family about what he really wanted to do with his life.

Bell was given unconditional bail and the case was adjourned for pre-sentence reports to 14 February.