The MPs’ expenses scandal, which has rocked British Parliament, got murkier on Friday as three Labour MPs and one Tory peer faced criminal charges under the Theft Act for allegedly making bogus claims.
In an unprecedented move, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it proposed to prosecute Elliot Morley, Jim Devine, and David Chaytor (all MPs) and Lord Hanningfield on charges of false accounting. If convicted they face a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.
However, they will not be arrested and instead, will be issued summons to appear in court.
All four denied any wrongdoing and vowed to defend themselves.
Announcing the decision, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said: “In four cases, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges and that it is in the public interest to charge the individuals concerned.”
Within hours, Lord Hanningfield was forced to resign as shadow business spokesman. He was also suspended from the parliamentary party though he insisted that he had done nothing wrong.
“All the claims I have ever made were made in good faith. I have never claimed more in expenses than I have spent in the course of my duties,” he said.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who himself faced allegations of wrongly claiming cleaning expenses, said he was “very angry about what has happened” echoing the concern that the scandal had brought disrepute to Parliament.
“We took steps some months ago to remove the right of these people to stand as candidates for the Labour Party. These are very serious criminal allegations. All criminal allegations have got to be investigated. It’s a matter now for the courts,” he said.
The scandal has been rumbling since last summer when the allegations first surfaced leading to a wave of resignations, including Ministers.
The move to charge the four parliamentarians came a day after it emerged that more than half the 600-odd MPs claimed inflated expenses belying the impression that the abuse was confined to a few “bad apples”. More than 300 MPs have been ordered to repay a total of more than one million pounds.