Tory peer Lord Hanningfield convicted of expenses fraud

A former Tory peer is facing jail after being found guilty of fraudulently claiming nearly £14,000 in the final parliamentary expenses trial.

Lord Hanningfield, 70, joins four ex-MPs and a fellow member of the Lords already convicted of dishonestly obtaining thousands of pounds from the taxpayer by making false claims for allowances.



The jury of nine women and three men took just four hours to find him guilty of six counts of false accounting after an eight-day trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.



Lord Hanningfield, an ex-Lords opposition frontbencher and leader of Essex County Council, claimed £13,379 in parliamentary expenses for overnight stays in London when he was not in the capital.



This included one occasion in February 2008 when he was actually on board a flight to India.



The peer, a former pig farmer from West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, also fraudulently claimed £382 in train fares and £147 in mileage by doubling the seven-mile distance from his house to the train station.



He continues to protest his innocence and is considering an appeal, telling reporters as he left court: "I'm devastated but I have no regrets. I did nothing wrong."



Lord Hanningfield told the jury that he treated the Lords expenses for staying overnight in London as an allowance for living outside the capital and spent just "a minute a month" completing his claim forms.



He alleged that most other peers treated the House of Lords as a "club", turning up there for only 10 minutes to claim their daily allowance.



The disgraced peer insisted his parliamentary duties left him thousands of pounds out of pocket and said he "averaged out" his claims to recoup some of the money he spent.



When he was questioned by detectives, he told them to look at the records of other peers and claimed he was not the only one claiming expenses in this way.



Unmarried Lord Hanningfield, who is suffering from ill health, told the court that public service was his life and he worked very long hours on Lords and county council business.



He said he re-mortgaged his bungalow to fight the case and was living on a modest pension because he "never got round to signing the forms" for the local government pension to which he was entitled.



But prosecutors rejected the peer's "feeble excuse" for his "blatantly dishonest" behaviour.



Stephen O'Doherty, reviewing lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "The defence of Lord Hanningfield, also known as Paul White, was that he was not paid a salary and that justified him claiming for expenses that he had never incurred.



"This was in our view completely unacceptable and clearly the jury agreed in returning guilty verdicts.



"It is common knowledge that a peer does not receive a salary for their services, and anyone accepting a peerage does so in that knowledge.



"Peers in the House of Lords are supposed to serve the public, not top up their income at the public's expense."



Four former Labour MPs - David Chaytor, Eric Illsley, Jim Devine and Elliot Morley - have already received prison terms for fiddling their parliamentary expenses.



Illsley has already been released from jail, and Chaytor was freed today from Spring Hill open prison, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, under the home detention curfew scheme after serving just a quarter of his 18-month sentence.



Another Conservative peer, Lord Taylor of Warwick, will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday and Lord Hanningfield will learn his fate at Chelmsford Crown Court in three weeks.



It can be disclosed now, after the end of the last expenses trial currently before the courts, that the judge hearing the cases ordered Lord Sugar to remove a Twitter message speculating during Lord Taylor's trial that the peer would be cleared because he was a Tory.



Mr Justice Saunders told the multi-millionaire Apprentice business guru, who is a Labour peer, to delete the posting for fear it could unfairly influence jurors and referred the matter to Attorney General Dominic Grieve.



The judge also criticised Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former prime minister Gordon Brown for joining a "pre-election frenzy" over the expense cheat MPs that nearly scuppered their trials.



At a pre-trial hearing he said the then-leaders of all three main parties "joined in the condemnation" of defendants being granted legal aid to argue that they should not face a judge and jury.



Scotland Yard said a "small number" of other cases involving parliamentary expenses were still either being considered by prosecutors or investigated by the police.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable