Commons accountant held over expenses scandal

Senior Fees Office official suspected of false accounting in handling of claims
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An official in the House of Commons Fees Office has been arrested as part of the long-running police investigation into MPs' expenses.

Andrew Gibson, a Resources Budget Officer, was well-known to MPs as the man at the desk in the Fees Office who handled their expenses claims.

Mr Gibson, along with another suspect who was not an employee of the House, was arrested on suspicion of obtaining money transferred by deception and false accounting, and bailed to appear at a police station in March. Neither has been charged.

The Commons Fees Office has come under withering criticism for its handling of MPs' expenses claims, but this is the first time that any of the staff have been personally drawn into the long-running expenses scandal.

Mr Gibson resigned in January after information uncovered in the investigation into MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg led to police being called in. The police are understood to have taken records from the Fees Office. Though his job was a senior one, he was not responsible for making payments to MPs.

Police stressed that there is "no apparent link" between the case of the two men and that of the Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, who have been charged under the Theft Act in relation to their expense claims. They have all denied any charges and have said they would defend their positions robustly.

The Commons authorities refused to discuss the case yesterday. A spokesman said: "We don't comment on personnel issues." But one MP, who asked not to be named, said he feared that Mr Gibson was being singled out unfairly.

"He wasn't running the office, he didn't physically hand money to MPs or sign cheques. He was an accountant shifting numbers on a balance sheet. I hope he isn't being made into the fall guy," the MP said. Other MPs spoke of Mr Gibson as a "much liked" official whose attitude had been "very helpful".

The arrests come as a handful of MPs are fighting a rearguard action to avoid repaying money that they have been told they wrongly claimed. In his report, earlier this month, Sir Thomas said that he had identified a total of £1.2m of overpayments to MPs and former MPs.

His office could not say yesterday how much money is still outstanding, but they revealed that another 14 MPs or ex-MPs, whose cases had been held up by missing paperwork, have lodged appeals which are still outstanding.

The highest individual repayment was £42,458.21 from the local government minister Barbara Follett, though that was topped by the husband-and-wife team, Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride, both Tory MPs, who repaid a combined £62,386. Sir Thomas expressed shock in his report over the chummy relationship which appeared to have developed between MPs and the Fees Office, which allowed dubious claims to go through unchallenged.

Reviewing the discredited Additional Costs Allowance scheme, Sir Thomas said: "The ACA system was deeply flawed. In particular, the rules were vague, and MPs were themselves self-certifying as to the propriety of their use of the allowance. Taken with the prevailing lack of transparency and the 'culture of deference', this means the Fees Office's decisions lacked legitimacy."

He added: "The quality of the Fees Office's document management was very variable, and there are significant gaps and omissions in the records."

The role of the Fees Office has been taken over by the newly created Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority set up by the Speaker, John Bercow, and headed by Sir Ian Kennedy.

Officials who held jobs senior to Mr Gibson's in the Fees Office are still employed by the Commons.