Huckfield expenses ruling is overturned

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(First Edition)

A FORMER Labour MEP who allegedly cheated on his expenses cannot escape prosecution by claiming that the case falls outside the jurisdiction of courts in England and Wales, the High Court said yesterday, writes Adam Sage.

Overturning a ruling made in Manchester Crown Court last year, the High Court said Leslie Huckfield, 50, former MEP for Merseyside East, could be prosecuted on charges of obtaining more than pounds 2,500 by deception.

Last September, Mr Justice Morland said he would infringe the sovereignty of the European Parliament if he heard the case against Mr Huckfield. The parliament's president, Egon Klepsch, said the allegations were an internal matter.

But that argument was dismissed yesterday. Lord Justice Leggatt, sitting with Mr Justice Pill, said: 'The question whether they were obtained by dishonesty is a question of national law which is capable of being raised by a prosecutor in criminal proceedings in a national court.'

There was no provision in EC law for MEPs to be exempted from criminal liability and no way the parliament could take action itself.

The judges refused to refer the issue to the European Court as it 'admits only one sensible solution', they said. Further delay in bringing the case to trial would be wrong.

Afterwards, Mr Huckfield said: 'I am naturally disappointed at the outcome this morning. I have now asked my solicitors to apply to seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.' His solicitor, Michael Fisher, said the Crown Prosecution Service had indicated that it would consider whether to start a new prosecution.

Mr Huckfield, a former Labour industry minister, was accused along with Trevor Ennis, a TUC worker, and James Dowd, a welfare worker, of obtaining a pounds 1,522 cheque by deception. Mr Huckfield and Mr Ennis were also charged with obtaining pounds 1,007 for poster and advertising costs by deception.

Quashing the indictment last year, Mr Justice Morland said Mr Huckfield's defence was that he 'honestly believed' the cheques were genuine. 'I should also make it clear the proceeds did not benefit Mr Huckfield, but went into the legal defence fund to support certain suspended Labour Party members,' Mr Justice Morland said.