7 Jan 2011

MPs’ expenses: David Chaytor jailed for 18 months

Former Labour MP David Chaytor is jailed for 18 months for fraudulently claiming Parliamentary expenses.

Ex-MP David Chaytor, 61, was sentenced to 18 months for claiming more than £20,000 in fraudulent expenses.

Last month Chaytor, of Lumbutts, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, admitted three charges of false accounting at the Old Bailey.

Chaytor submitted bogus invoices to support claims totalling £22,650 for IT services – for which he was never charged – and for renting two homes – which it emerged later were owned by him and his mother.

Chaytor made the false claims in order to “siphon off” public money to which he was not entitled, prosecutors told the court today.

The former MP pleaded guilty in December to three counts of false accounting between November 2005 and January 2008.

Chaytor admitted false accounting involving a total of £18,350 which he charged on his expenses while serving as an MP for Bury North – a seat he had held since 1997. He has pledged to repay the amount in full.

The £1,950 claimed for IT support services was not paid out, because he had already exceeded his allowance for that type of expense.

“These false claims were made in breach of the high degree of trust placed in MPs” Mr Justice Saunders

When the expenses scandal broke last year Chaytor apologised “unreservedly” for what he called an “unforgivable error in my accounting procedures”.

He referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Following the sentence today, Chaytor was excluded from the Labour Party, a spokesman said.

David Chaytor could face "verbal aggro" in jail, but is unlikely to suffer violence if he behaves in the right way in prison, the former Conservative Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken told Channel 4 News.

Aitken, who was jailed for 18 months in 1999 after admitting charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice, said that Chaytor should have expected to have been treated severely by the judge because he had breached his bond of trust with the British people.

But - as long as he realised that he was now at rock bottom and behaved accordingly - he could survive his jail term, said Aitken.

"Don't stand out and don't give yourself any airs and grace," he advised. "Go with the flow of prison - go quietly - keep your head down.

"Do your bird without complaint and once your fellow inmates see there is nothing special about you - and you are not thinking yourself as anyone special - they will start giving you the benefit of the doubt and perhaps be a bit friendly - and the environment won't turn out to be as hostile as you think."

Sentencing Chaytor, Mr Justice Saunders said the Parliamentary expenses scandal has “shaken public confidence in the legislature and angered the public”.

He said: “These false claims were made in breach of the high degree of trust placed in MPs to only make legitimate claims.

“These offences have wider and more important consequences than is to be found in other breach of trust cases.

“That is the effect they have had and will have in the confidence the public has in politicians.

“They are elected representatives, they hold an important and powerful place in society. They legislate what the public can and cannot do.

“It is necessary their behaviour should be entirely honest if public confidence in the parliamentary system and rule of law is to be maintained.”

‘Broken man’

The prosecution told the court that Chaytor deliberately tried to “siphon money off from the public purse” which he was not entitled to.

In defence, James Sturman QC said Chaytor was a “broken man” who had already paid a “quite devastating price” for his errors.

He accepts he has brought shame on himself, he has brought shame on his family and he has brought shame on Parliament. James Sturman QC

He said Chaytor, who displayed “inexplicable stupidity” in submitting fraudulent documents, was entitled to the money if he had gone about it “honestly and frankly”.

Mr Sturman added: “There is nothing left that is a spark in him at all, except when he talks of his grandchild born before Christmas.

“He accepts he has brought shame on himself, he has brought shame on his family and he has brought shame on Parliament.”

David Chaytor

Parliament to prison

David Chaytor isn’t the first parliamentarian to face a prison sentence.

A memorable case involved former Labour MP John Stonehouse who was jailed after being found living in Australia under a fake name after apparently faking his own death.

The former MP for Walsall North was feared drowned after vanishing on a business trip to Miami in 1974. His plan to set up a new life with his former secretary ended when he was deported to Britain.

In August 1976, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for theft, fraud and deception. The charges related to a string of fraudulent businesses set up before his disappearance.

More recently, the high-profile downfalls of Lord Archer and Jonathan Aitken thrust the question of whether politicians could ever be trusted into the spotlight.

Aitken, who was Conservative MP for Thanet East and South Thanet from 1974 until 1997, was jailed for 18 months in June 1999 for perjury after admitting he told a lie on oath in a libel action.

He later described how he turned to God while behind bars at Belmarsh and helped less literate inmates with his “wonderful joined-up writing”.

Fellow Tory Lord Archer was sentenced to four years in prison in July 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The jury at his trial found he had lied under oath during his 1987 libel case against the Daily Star over allegations he had had sex with a prostitute.