Peer jailed for expenses fraud
Tuesday 31 May 2011
A disgraced former Tory peer will remain in the House of Lords despite being jailed for 12 months today for expenses fraud.
Lord Taylor of Warwick, 58, lied under oath during his trial in an attempt to cover up fraudulent claims of more than £11,000 in taxpayers' money, Southwark Crown Court heard.
He told the House of Lords members' expenses office that his main residence was a house in Oxford, when in fact he lived in west London.
The peer never stayed in, and only twice visited, the Oxford property, which was owned by the partner of his half-nephew, Robert Taylor.
He was therefore not entitled to claim money from the Lords authorities for travelling from there to London and staying overnight in the capital.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Saunders said Lord Taylor had thrown away his many positive achievements in public life "not by one stupid action but by a protracted course of dishonesty".
The judge condemned the lies told by the shamed peer to cover up his £11,277.80-worth of false parliamentary expenses claims for travel and overnight subsistence between March 2006 and October 2007.
These included false claims to journalists investigating his expenses that he lived with his poorly mother until 2007, when in fact she died six years earlier.
Mr Justice Saunders said: "The expenses scheme in the House of Lords was based on trust.
"Peers certified that their claims were accurate. They were not required to provide proof. It was considered that people who achieved a peerage could be relied on to be honest.
"Making false claims involved a breach of a high degree of trust. The expenses scandal has affected the standing not just of the House of Commons but also the House of Lords."
The judge quoted one of the peer's character witnesses, the Speaker's chaplain in Parliament, who said the expenses scandal had left an "indelible stain" on Britain's political system.
Lord Taylor, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, was the first parliamentarian to stand trial and be found guilty by a jury over the expenses scandal.
The peer told jurors he understood he only needed a "family connection" to a property to call it a main residence on his claim forms.
He also maintained he was following advice given to him by fellow peers that nominating a residence outside of the capital was a way to earn money "in lieu of salary". He has now repaid the money he fraudulently claimed.
Mr Justice Saunders noted: "Lord Taylor has now told the probation officer that he fully accepts that he is guilty of the offences and has expressed regret and remorse for what he has done.
"While it is to his credit that Lord Taylor admits his guilt, it does mean that he accepts that he wasn't telling the truth on oath in the witness box."
Mitigating, Mohammed Khamisa QC told the judge that the peer was a man of previous good character who had made "a single monumental error of judgment which has destroyed his life".
"He isn't motivated by money, glory, pomposity, arrogance or greed," he said.
"He is described as a humble, gentle man who has for most of his life dedicated himself to public service."
Mr Khamisa said Lord Taylor's peerage cost him his marriage and his trial has left him facing almost certain financial ruin as he has lost consultancy work and been forced to take out a £50,000 loan on equity in his house to live on.
Lord Taylor, a Birmingham-born former barrister who became the first black Conservative peer when he took his seat in the House of Lords in 1996, is set to remain a member of the Upper House despite being jailed.
Although successive ministers have proposed reforms so that errant peers could be expelled, there is currently no way of removing them other than passing an Act of Parliament.
Author Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, who received a four-year prison sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice, and newspaper mogul Lord Black of Crossharbour, who was jailed in the US for fraud, remain members of the Lords despite their criminal convictions.
By contrast, under the Representation of the People Act 1981 MPs are automatically disqualified from the Commons if they are jailed for more than a year.
It can be revealed today that about 15 fellow peers - including Lord Clarke of Hampstead, a former chairman of the Labour Party - refused to give evidence to support Lord Taylor's defence.
Wearing a charcoal double-breasted suit with a blue shirt and a blue and white tie, Lord Taylor made no reaction as he was sentenced.
His lawyers, IBB Solicitors, said afterwards he was distraught at being jailed but fully accepted the court's decision and planned to continue serving the public on his release.
Lord Taylor was expected to begin his sentence at Wandsworth Prison in south London, but he could be freed after serving just three months of his sentence under early release rules for non-violent prisoners who pose a low risk.
Four former Labour MPs - David Chaytor, Eric Illsley, Jim Devine and Elliot Morley - have also received prison terms for fiddling their parliamentary expenses.
Illsley and Chaytor have already been tagged and released from jail under the home detention curfew scheme after serving part of their sentences.
Another Tory peer, Lord Hanningfield, will be sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court next month after he was found guilty last week of fraudulently claiming nearly £14,000 in his Lords expenses.
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