Howard 'sad and angry' over £17,351 gardener bill accusation

Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader, put up a fierce defence yesterday of the £17,351 claims he submitted to pay the gardener for work at his constituency home.

His case will go before the scrutiny panel set up by David Cameron to examine all Tory MPs' expenses, but the signs were that he would be spared the kind of condemnation directed at other Tories. Mr Howard insisted yesterday that he had done nothing wrong. He added that he was "sad and angry" to be facing these accusations towards the end of a long political career.

In 2004-05, he claimed £5,092 for "gardening services". He made two more such claims the following year, for £1,783 and £1,617, and another two in 2006-07, totalling £4,783. In May 2007, he claimed £550 for fencing and £4,076 for "garden maintenance".

Yesterday, Mr Howard said that the bills were not simply for gardening but for other jobs as well including "undoing blocked drains, painting, repairing doors, [and] all the things which a property needs to be maintained".

He told BBC Kent Radio: "Everything that I have done is perfectly proper. I haven't charged the maximum under the second home allowance and according to a recent survey I am the 31st cheapest MP out of 646 MPs in the House of Commons, so I think my constituents get pretty good value."

Yesterday a Tory source close to David Cameron insisted that Michael Howard's case was "nothing like as clear cut" as those of the backbench Tory MPs, Peter Viggers and Anthony Steen, who were both pressured into announcing that they would stand down at the next election. Mr Howard had already announced his impending retirement before the expenses row.

In 1993, when Mr Howard was appointed Home Secretary, he hired the young Mr Cameron as his special adviser. Some 10 years later, as party leader, he fast-tracked Mr Cameron to the front bench, having apparently chosen him as his successor.

Mr Howard wrote on his website on 18 May: "The public are right to be angry about the conduct of those MPs who have abused the system."

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