How scandal dogged Margaret Moran's career

 

The scandal that has dogged Margaret Moran's political career has left her a shadow of her former self.

From defending her right to a "proper family life" in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, the former Luton South MP cut a different figure as she wept through her first court appearance, and was unable to stand trial due to ill health.

Moran is no stranger to controversy - as well as being caught up in the drama of expenses, she was also among a group of Labour MPs caught in a TV "sting" apparently offering their expertise for cash.

Hers is the the latest prosecution from the expenses scandal that blighted Westminster three years ago.

David Chaytor, Eric Illsley, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine all received prison sentences, as did peers Lord Taylor of Warwick and Lord Hanningfield.

Earlier this month it emerged that letters from former minister Denis MacShane admitting expenses abuses cannot be used to prosecute him because they are protected by Commons rules.

Mr MacShane stepped down as the Labour MP for Rotherham after the cross-party Commons Standards and Privileges Committee found he deliberately filed misleading receipts.

When Margaret Moran first stood in the 1992 general election in Carshalton and Wallington, little did she know where her political high hopes would lead.

She finished in third place, but was selected from an all-woman shortlist to stand for Labour in Luton South in the 1997 election, going on to win the seat from the Tories.

She was re-elected in the 2001 election, and promoted to assistant whip, then went on to be voted in for a third term in 2005.

But an apparently promising political career was tarnished with scandal.

In 2005, after a complaint by Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Richard Stay, Westminster officials ruled that mail-outs sent by Moran were "against the spirit" of regulations.

In October that year, Moran's expenses claims for 2004-05 emerged as the second highest in the country - claiming £168,569 between April 2004 and March 2005.

When the expenses scandal broke in 2009, it emerged she claimed £22,500 to treat dry rot at her partner's home in Southampton - 100 miles from her constituency and Westminster.

She remained defiant in the immediate aftermath, saying: "Any MP has to have a proper family life, they have to have support of their partner."

But amid growing public fury she announced she would stand down at the next general election, saying the "understandable public anger" had caused her great stress and - in the first hint of medical problems that would later render her unable to stand trial - "seriously worsened my existing health problem".

Moran was formally barred from standing again as a Labour candidate and agreed to repay the money.

In November 2009 her local newspaper, the Luton and Dunstable Express, launched a "Get Moran Out Now" campaign, calling for her immediate resignation. The following month Gavin Shuker was selected as the Labour candidate to replace her, winning the seat in the 2010 election.

Moran had been off work since she was engulfed in the expenses scandal, claiming she was suffering from stress. But despite an apparent wish to disappear from the spotlight, the drama was not to end there.

In March 2010 she was among several MPs, including three former cabinet ministers, caught in a TV "sting" agreeing to use their position to influence government policy for cash.

The group were secretly filmed in a joint investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches and the Sunday Times, discussing the possibility of working for what they thought was an American lobby company.

Moran was suspended from the Labour Party following the revelations. The following month, Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon resumed his probe into her - which had been suspended because she was too ill to co-operate.

Little was heard from the former MP until September last year, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced she would face criminal charges.

A shadow of her former self, she wept inconsolably throughout a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court in September 2011, having to be passed a tissue by a court official.

Now 57, she might have been declared medically unfit to stand trial and may have avoided jail, but will be remembered not for her political successes but for cheating the public purse to the tune of tens of thousands.

It is no doubt far from the end she imagined to her political career.

PA

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