Four MPs face police probe on expenses

Scotland Yard to focus on politicians who 'deliberately misled' with their claims
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MPs who deliberately misled the authorities over their expenses will face an investigation for fraud, Scotland Yard made clear yesterday.

A police inquiry is expected to focus on those MPs who claimed taxpayers' money for mortgages which had already been paid. But the vast majority of MPs caught up in the expenses scandal will escape prosecution, said the team of senior prosecutors and Metropolitan Police investigators asked to look into the allegations.

Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, set up a panel to assess more than 100 allegations of misuse in the wake of revelations about how MPs had used the system for paying out on parliamentary allowances and expenses.

At least four MPs are expected to fall within the scope of the streamlined inquiry. Labour MPs David Chaytor and Elliot Morley announced they would stand down after it emerged they claimed interest payments for paid-off mortgages. Two other MPs, Labour's Ben Chapman and Conservative Bill Wiggin, may face further inquiries after they claimed for mortgages that did not exist.

In the past two weeks the inquiry team has had meetings with senior members of both the Fees Office of both the Commons and Lords to understand the parliamentary rules and systems for expenses and the scale of any criminal inquiry. In a statement yesterday, they said most MPs appeared to have provided accurate information: "Unless evidence is available which shows individuals deliberately misled the Fees Office, it is highly unlikely there could be a successful prosecution."

But the statement added: "However, there are allegations where questions remain about the probity of the claims, which will require further information before decisions regarding investigations could be made."

The police are unable to start an investigation of fraud until an allegation or a formal complaint has been made.

But campaign groups threatened to launch private prosecutions if the police did not investigate or the Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring criminal charges.

Bury North MP Mr Chaytor will pay back £13,000 after admitting an "unforgivable error" in continuing to submit £1,175 monthly bills for a paid-off loan.

Mr Morley was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after admitting a similar £16,000 claim and referring himself to the Westminster sleaze watchdog.

Parliamentary standards inquiries into Mr Chaytor and Mr Morley are on hold while the police continue to consider their cases.

Ben Chapman, MP for Wirral South, said he will stand down at the next election after it was reported he claimed £15,000 for interest on a paid-off mortgage.

Bill Wiggin, a Tory whip, received more than £11,000 to cover interest payments after declaring a Herefordshire property was his "second home". Mr Wiggin said the money, to which he was entitled, should have related to his London property. Tory leader David Cameron said the mistake was "honest".

It is understood some senior officers are unwilling for the force to become embroiled in another complex political inquiry.

Previous political probes included investigations dubbed 'cash for honours', 'donorgate' and 'Lords for hire'.

The statement said: "Over the past two weeks, the joint Metropolitan Police Service and Crown Prosecution Service assessment panel has met on a number of occasions and has considered a large number of allegations about the alleged abuse of expense claims in both the Lords and the Commons and whether any criminal investigations should be launched.

"The panel's view is that, unless evidence is available which shows individuals deliberately misled the Fees Office, it is highly unlikely that there could be a successful prosecution. Many of those complained about appear to have provided accurate information and therefore the MPS will not pursue a criminal investigation into allegations against them. "

But the panel said there were still some cases that required further investigation. "We are therefore continuing to liaise with Parliamentary authorities in the two Houses over the provision of this additional information so the assessment panel can make informed decisions on these remaining allegations."