10 Feb 2011

When Jim Devine admitted ‘moving money around’

On the day he was charged, Jim Devine admitted to Channel 4 News that he had submitted claims for stationery, that came out of his communications budget.

Devine was found guilty of two counts of making false expense claims at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday.

And during the proceedings, the jury was played a Channel 4 News interview that took place on 5 February last year, in which Devine said: “I was moving money from communications to the staffing budget.

“I was advised by a whip that I could do this, who said that you could move money about like this.”

Devine told the court that fellow Labour MP, Steve McCabe had told him he could do this one night at the Westminster Strangers Bar. However Mr McCabe denied the conversation took place.

Devine said he did not think he had done anything wrong, but admitted he had been naive. The interview was played to the jury during the trial.

In the frank in-depth interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Jim Devine gave his side of the story after the CPS announced he was facing charges under Section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 for false accounting.

Jim Devine interview

Jim Devine MP: “I’m at a total disadvantage here, because I was referred to the police on public speculation about shelving and electrical work.

“Both these receipts have come completely out of the blue.

“Three people had a company who were doing cleaning, maintenance and security.

“My flat had been broken into. The police told me I needed security while I was away.

“The stationery [claim] was for paying for leaflets and for moving money from one account to another, I had a lot of money in the communications account.

“We have separate accounts – London living, staffing, communication and an office budget. And you can move money around these accounts.

“I was moving money from communications to the staffing budget.

“I was advised by a whip that I could do this, who said that you could move money about like this.

“There was stationery… other parts of the money went into a staffing account. I was told that that was acceptable. Nobody queried it.”

KGM: “Isn’t that fraud, if you claim for one thing and use it for something else?”

JD: “I don’t see that it is. The fraud, I would suggest, and criminal activity, I would suggest, is that it is to my benefit.

“None of this was to my benefit. I did not financially benefit by these two receipts.”

KGM: “But in simple terms you submitted a claim for five and a half thousand pounds for stationery. You did not spend five and a half thousand pounds on stationery, did you?”

JD: “I moved money around, as I was told I was entitled to do.”

KGM: “So where did the receipt come from?”

JD: “It came from a printers… it was not invented. It was explained to me that I could move money around. This is what I have done. I have a receipt from the individual who received payment over a six-month period.

“I was told I could do this.”

KGM: “So you got a receipt from somebody you were paying as a member of staff, and submitted it as stationery?”

JD: “Yes. This was allowed at the time.

“I came down as a by-election candidate in October 2005. I had no in-service training. I had no advice on how to deal with accounts.

“I was given a pile of books, went to the fees office, filled in a form and carried on with the advice I was given.

KGM: “What you seemed to have explained is that you put in a false receipt. But you claimed for one thing, and said it was another. Which is obviously why they’ve come after you.”

JD: “The false receipt would be if the five and a half thousand pounds was going into my pocket.

“In my innocence I was told that [this claim] was acceptable.

“I was investigated publicly over two issues – shelving and electrical work.

“I referred myself to the police. I gave the police all my receipts. If I thought there was a problem, I would not have given the police those receipts. From my position I thought I had done nothing wrong.”

Going back to basics

Krishnan Guru-Murthy writes about his interview with Jim Devine:

"Sometimes an interview question can be too clever by half.

"The temptation is to skip ahead before asking the basics.

"I had watched Jim Devine being interviewed by the other news organisations before we got our chance. And the desire to lynch him seemed to mean people weren't asking the obvious one: what did you claim for? And did you actually spend that money on what you said it was for?

"But I have to admit I was taken aback by Jim Devine's apparent willingness to answer these questions. Whether this was because he genuinely felt he had done nothing wrong or because he was already laying the ground work for a possible criminal defence we'll never know.

But his admission that he had claimed for things that had never actually been purchased and that he had obtained what must have been a false receipt was astonishing as it unfolded before us. And it was a lesson for me at least that it's always best to start at the beginning."

KGM: “Surely you can see that if you put in a receipt for one thing and it’s actually for something else, that is false and therefore you’ve broken the law?”

JD: “Well, I don’t accept that, and that is the debate we’ve got to have in court.

“I think I would have broken the law if I had benefited financially from the arrangement.”

KGM: “What is your claim on parliamentary privilege? Why is it you think you should not be facing these charges?”

JD: “We’re not arguing that we’re above the law. What we’re arguing is that we should have gone, in the first instance, through the parliamentary process.

“We’ve just had the debate about what was the procedure – were you allowed to carry money over? Were you allowed to transfer it from one account to another?

“I do feel – the three of us feel – that we’re being treated in very different ways from a lot of our colleagues.

“People yesterday had paid back 20, 30, 40 thousand pounds. Why are we being dealt with by police when there is clearly a process within Parliament?

“If I have done something wrong, I am not arguing that I am above the law.

“If I have done something wrong, quite rightly I am entitled to be charged. I don’t believe that I have done anything wrong here.

“The taxpayer did not lose, because an individual that was working for me was paid. If I’ve done anything wrong, then it’s that I’ve been naive and listened to the wrong people.

“Have I benefited one pound financially? No, I haven’t. And that I think is the difference between saying I’m a criminal and saying that I’ve made a mistake.”