The Sketch: With Devine on the wrong side of justice, sympathy's hard to find

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The Independent Online

There's a little grille four inches square set into the fortified door at the side of the Old Bailey. It's a different world on the other side of the grille and if you've had a glimpse of it – speaking as someone who's had 24 hours in the slammer – you'll rather not have another.

It's a subject for a little tragedy. Broad, bulky, baffled Jim Devine, 56 looking 66, should never have been an MP but got nudged into the firing line after the death of Robin Cook. Not quick, clever or clubbable enough to get on in the Commons, he lived in a Scottish cabal. Drank too much. Family had left him. Problems with staff, problems with money. The whips warned new MPs away from him. You must feel for him.

And for all his sins, he counted on the protection of what is still one of the country's most powerful institutions. Whatever else, Parliament does look after its own. Egregious crimes have been covered up and tidied away under the cloak of privilege.

So, poor old Labour's Jim Devine, he was living in our world now. That was the feeling walking into the court. And when you see people who used to make the law break the law – and then be taken through criminal proceedings, humiliated, deprived of their good name – there's a tendency to awe and pity.

The sentencing of the MP to 16 months took place in a blond pine-paneled courtroom by a red-robed Justice in a white wig. At the end he said: "Stand up, Mr Devine." It never ends well, when someone like him says something like that.

Sympathy for the accused had been extinguished by the judge's previous remarks about fraud, false invoices and a claim for work not commissioned or done – the convict had done this when the expenses scandal was on the front pages so he was aware of the reputational risk to Parliament. The financial problems caused by sacking a staff member deserved little sympathy as he was found guilty of wrongful dismissal; he had sought immunity, then pleaded not guilty; he had named a colleague who'd advised him to get the money; he had blamed his secretary...

The summary was conclusive and authoritative. One's transient sentiments were swept away. Having said all that, Jim Devine will probably be out by Christmas. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, only judges know. Presumably.