Downfall of an expenses cheat

NO tears will be shed, by taxpayers at least, over the jailing, albeit for just 18 months, of David Chaytor – the first Parliamentarian to be imprisoned for fiddling expenses claims.

A custodial sentence was, frankly, the only sentence open to the judge, in spite of the protestations of the ex-MP, from Todmorden, that he is "a broken man" suffering from depression, shame and humiliation.

Yet, while some MPs have questioned the wisdom of imprisoning a former politician who poses no threat to public safety, the likes of Chaytor certainly endanger the public purse, judging by the sums that he fraudulently claimed through a complex web of false invoices that involved close family members.

Chaytor's only mitigation is that he admitted his guilt, a move which shortened his prison term and which should be duly noted by his former colleagues whose cases are still pending. His life may be in ruins, but he only has himself to blame – he was not coerced by others into these fraudulent acts and good behaviour means he could be free in time for next Christmas.

Chaytor's sentencing also send out a strong signal that MPs are not above the law – and that any financial indiscretions on their part will be punished for such a blatant and far-reaching breach of trust.

This is welcome and offers hardworking taxpayers, at the very least, the reassurance that the expenses scandal has brought about lasting reforms at Westminster, even if some MPs complain that they are being forced to sleep on mattresses on their office floor. These cases, however, should be placed in perspective. They are the exception. Most Parliamentarians accept the new rules, and are happy to abide by them. Equally, Chaytor's conviction is exceptional – only a small handful of MPs abused, or have been accused, of defrauding taxpayers on such a large scale.

Yet, while there are some expense and remuneration issues that need addressing, MPs would be advised to proceed carefully. First, their profession has to regain the public's trust before there's any question of some rules being relaxed. And, second, any changes must be totally transparent, with the necessary paperwork open to public scrutiny.

Chaytor's jailing is, therefore, just the beginning of Westminster's long journey to redemption.