Peer 'crazy not to nominate another address'
Wednesday 19 January 2011
A former Tory peer accused of lying about his expenses was told by a fellow lord he would be "crazy" not to nominate a house outside London as his main address, a court heard today.
Lord Taylor of Warwick is accused of claiming for travel costs between a home in Oxford and the House of Lords in London, when he actually lived in the capital.
Another peer at the House of Lords, Lord Colwyn, gave evidence at his trial at Southwark Crown Court today.
Mohammed Khamisa QC, defending, told the jury Lord Colwyn had advised his friend to take full advantage of the expenses system.
He asked the former dentist, who took a peerage in January 1967, if he remembered a conversation between the men in which they discussed claiming a main residence outside of London.
Mr Khamisa asked if he recalled an evening when he attended a dinner at the London Metropole Hotel.
The barrister said: "You sat next to Lord Taylor for a period of about three hours.
"You talked about jazz, which is a common interest.
"At that dinner there was a discussion about members' residences and designation."
Lord Colwyn said he did not remember the dinner, and that he attended many functions.
Mr Khamisa continued: "You advised him to designate an address, providing there was a family connection to the address."
The peer denied he said that, responding: "That's not something I would ever recommend."
It was disclosed yesterday that Lord Taylor had claimed he lived at an address in which his half nephew lives. The peer agrees he has never stayed at the property, and has no financial or legal interest in it.
The defence lawyer for Lord Taylor said his client remembered Lord Colwyn saying a particular phrase to him.
He told the court: "It's on that night you said 'frankly you would be crazy' not to nominate another address."
Lord Colwyn replied: "I assure you I would not ever have said that."
The barrister suggested to the peer that he was denying the allegations because he did not want to become embroiled in the scandal which has rocked the Houses of Parliament since details of members' expenses were published.
He said: "You're doing that to protect yourself from the criticism which has been made in the press over the last 18 months.
"Are you having selective amnesia?"
Mr Khamisa also questioned Lord Colwyn on a conversation his client said took place on the Royal Bench in 2001.
"Amongst other things, you discussed expenses," he said.
"You spoke about homes inside and outside London.
"And, in relation to homes outside London, you said a family connection was needed."
The peer said he did not remember that particular conversation but he said members of the House of Lords did sometimes talk about their expenses.
He said: "It may have been discussed as a bit of light-hearted banter at some stage, but I don't recall it being a serious discussion."
Describing his relationship with Lord Taylor, Lord Colwyn said: "I think I know him reasonably well.
"I regard him as a friend of mine."
Earlier today Helen Law, prosecuting, called to the witness box members of staff who worked at the expenses office in the House of Lords at the time the alleged offences took place.
Clare Hook, a supervisor at the members' expenses section, said she received an "unusual" phone call from Lord Taylor after he found out a Freedom of Information request had been lodged.
He called the office, part of the House of Lords Finance Department, with concerns his address may be published, she said.
She said: "I do recall a telephone conversation when he rang my office in the summer of 2008, I think, when statements were issued to members on what was going to be published under the Freedom of Information Act.
"I remember the conversation, as it was slightly unusual.
"He was particularly concerned that we would publish his address, but I said we would not publish his address - only information on accounts."
Mr Khamisa said his client had been the subject of some racial abuse. "The main concern was his family," he said.
Ms Law asked Mrs Hook what the procedure would be if she suspected a member was lying on their claim forms.
At which point Judge Saunders said to the supervisor: "Don't you rely on the contents of the claim forms to be true?"
And she replied: "Absolutely."
Lord Taylor, 58, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, is on trial facing six allegations of false accounting on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.
The prosecution say he wrongly claimed for travel as well as night subsistence.
The trial will resume tomorrow morning.
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