Don't feel sorry for lord over expenses, jury told

Monday 24 January 2011 18:19

A former Tory peer on trial for fiddling expenses claims should not receive sympathy, a jury was told today.

Lord Taylor of Warwick is accused of claiming travel costs between a home in Oxford and London, and for night subsistence, when he actually lived in the capital.

The 58-year-old denies six charges of false accounting at Southwark Crown Court.

In her closing speech, Helen Law, prosecuting, told the jury of seven men and five women that the case was about "where Lord Taylor was living and where he wasn't living".

Speaking of the trips he claimed for, she said: "Those were journeys that didn't happen from a home that wasn't his.

"Lord Taylor knew those facts and he said he didn't attempt to mislead anyone.

"I'm going to suggest that as a lawyer and as a member of the House of Lords, the alarm bells would have been ringing loud and clear."

The barrister told the jury they should not feel sorry for the lord in the dock.

She said: "Firstly, it's not about sympathy. Just because your job doesn't pay you much doesn't mean you can put your hand in the till.

"You ask for a pay rise, and you explain why it isn't enough.

"If it doesn't go up, you leave and you get another job."

Ms Law reminded them what another peer, Lord Colwyn, said during the trial: "You don't have to be a peer."

She went on to say that the former Tory should not be seen as a "scapegoat".

The barrister said: "It is Lord Taylor alone, and not the system, that is on trial.

"Even if Lord Taylor was telling you the truth when he said that other people were doing the same as him, even if there were others doing the same - that's not a defence."

Ms Law said the staff processing the claim forms in the House of Lords finance department had no reason to believe he was lying, and they relied on the information being correct.

She said: "It was a lightly-policed scheme, open to abuse. Lord Taylor knew that, and he used it."

Lord Taylor, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, west London, denies the allegations of false accounting on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.

The members of the jury at Southwark Crown Court were then addressed by Lord Taylor's defending barrister, Mohammed Khamisa QC.

He said: "We hope that you have learned that nothing about the system in the House of Lords was straightforward."

Mr Khamisa told the jury the prosecution case - that the facts are "black and white" - was not so simple.

He said: "The reality is that the system, at best, was a grey one.

"Unclear, ill-defined and, most crucially, treated by many as a remuneration in lieu of salary."

He said: "The prosecution bring the case and so it is they that must prove that John Taylor is guilty.

"He is innocent until that time. You have to be sure."

The barrister went on to say an independent report published by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) found the scheme to be "ambiguous".

He said 85% of peers were found to have claimed the maximum they were entitled to, demonstrating most of them saw the scheme as an allowance, rather than a more typical expenses system.

Mr Khamisa said that relates to 600 of the 800 peers in the House of Lords.

Mr Khamisa said: "I know that his life has been turned upside down."

The barrister said that as a life peer, and not someone who had inherited his title, Lord Taylor was not a "member of the club".

He said the former lawyer was advised by other lords in the upper chamber to nominate a "main residence" outside of London and trusted their greater experience.

The barrister said Lord Taylor struggled to get to his position, and is committed to his duties, and guided by his Christian faith.

He said: "Every fibre of John Taylor's being resonates public service."

Mr Khamisa told the jury his client's actions were "clumsy, illogical and stupid, but not a deliberate attempt to lie.

"He is not motivated by money," he said. "He is a humble man, a gentle and honest man, with a clear moral compass.

"He is not a man with a silver spoon in his mouth."

Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge, then addressed the jury to sum up the case.

He asked the panel: "Was what the defendant did dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people?

"You set the standard. Look at it objectively."

He said the prosecution have to prove their case that Lord Taylor acted dishonestly, and that if the jury found that he did, they must find him guilty.

The judge went on to say that the panel should not think about whether or not other peers in the House of Lords were making false claims, and that they should dismiss the idea that Lord Taylor may be a scapegoat.

He said: "That is not a consideration for you.

"It is not for you to decide who should be, and who shouldn't be, prosecuted."

Judge Saunders said Lord Taylor was undoubtedly a man of good character, who has dedicated much of his life to the service of others.

The case was adjourned to tomorrow, when the judge is expected to finish summing up.