Disgraced Labour MP David Chaytor jailed for 18 months

FORMER Labour MP David Chaytor was tonight beginning an 18-month jail sentence for fiddling his Parliamentary expenses to "siphon off" public money.

MPs' expenses: Full coverage

Chaytor, 61, who lives in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, became the first politician to be convicted and sentenced over the expenses scandal which has rocked Westminster.

He submitted bogus invoices to support claims totalling 22,650 for IT services and renting homes in London and his Bury North constituency.

But the properties were owned by him and his mother, and he did not pay out any of his own money, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.

Chaytor, of Lumbutts, Todmorden, pleaded guilty last month to three counts of false accounting between November 2005 and January 2008.

The former MP is now facing a large legal bill for both his defence and the costs of bringing the prosecution against him.

Chaytor made the false claims in order to "siphon off" public money to which he was not entitled, the court heard.

But he has now repaid 19,237, more than the 18,350 he received from the House of Commons fees office based on his fraudulent claims.

Chaytor submitted claims totalling 15,275 and was paid 12,925 for renting Flat 152 Hide Tower in Regency Street, Westminster, central London.

But it turned out that he and his wife had bought the property in 1999, two years after he was first elected to Parliament, and paid off the mortgage on it in 2003.

He used the first and two middle names of his daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Rastrick, on a bogus shorthold tenancy agreement submitted to the Parliamentary authorities.

Chaytor also falsely claimed 5,425 between September 2007 and January 2008 for renting a cottage in Castle Street in Summerseat, near Bury, Lancashire.

A police investigation later revealed that this house was owned by his elderly mother, Olive Trickett.

She had lived in the cottage for about 40 years before her dementia meant she had to move to a local care home in May 2007. She died in May 2009, aged 81.

A tenancy agreement was drawn up listing Mrs Trickett's address as Holme Manor, Rossendale, but there was no indication that this was a nursing home.

The document, which was apparently signed by both parties in August 2007, was witnessed by a Sarah Fairlead, the married name of Chaytor's daughter.

The final charge related to a 1,950 claim made by Chaytor for IT support services provided in May 2006 by a freelance computer programmer called Paul France who volunteered at his office.

This money was never paid to him because he had already exceeded his allowance for this kind of expense, the court was told.

It came as "something of a surprise" to Mr France when he learned of the claim because he had not billed the former MP for the work, the court heard.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said: "The claims were fictitious. He had never incurred the consultancy fees, nor had he ever paid any sum in respect of any such alleged service.

"So far as the alleged rental of the properties in London and Summerseat were concerned, they were based entirely on bogus documents and, we submit, were designed by him to siphon money off from the public purse to which he was not entitled."

He added: "We say Mr Chaytor knew the rules, and we say why else would he produce false documents in support of his claims otherwise?"

The court heard Chaytor was confronted with the evidence about Hide Tower in May 2009 by a journalist who contacted him by email.

He later replied that he had made an "unforgivable error" in his accounting and offered an "unreserved apology".

Chaytor was interviewed by police in December and declined to answer questions.

He read a prepared statement about the legal challenge regarding Parliamentary privilege.

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

He said Chaytor was entitled to at least as much as he claimed and displayed "inexplicable stupidity" in submitting the fraudulent documents.

"We submit that the sums he received, if he had gone about it transparently, honestly and frankly, he would have been entitled to every penny, if not more than he claimed," he said.

"The fact that he would have been entitled to claim for a second property has been somewhat lost in the clamour and hysteria surrounding the case."

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."

A Labour Party spokesman said: "David Chaytor had already been suspended from the Labour Party and following his custodial sentence he has now been excluded from the party."

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."

Looking gaunt and wearing a charcoal suit with a grey shirt and a black tie with white polka dots, grey-haired Chaytor stood calmly in the dock and made no reaction as he was sentenced.

Court sources said the former MP would be taken to Wandsworth Prison in south-west London to spend his first night in custody.

Mr Justice Saunders added that people who make fraudulent claims for public benefits are "rightly condemned" by others.

He said many of these fraudsters are poor and added Chaytor cannot claim this in mitigation.

The judge said: "The whole expenses scandal has shaken public confidence in the legislature, it has angered the public.

"Chaytor only bears a small part of responsibility for that erosion of confidence and the public anger.

"But it is important because he has accepted his conduct was dishonest.

"These kind of offences are difficult to detect because of the trust placed in an individual to be honest in his or her claim.

"When they are discovered it is necessary significant penalties should follow so people realise how important it is for people to be honest in dealing with public funds.

"That is the only way public faith in the system can be restored and maintained."

A POLITICAL CAREER RUINED BY EXPENSES SCANDAL

David Chaytor gave up lecturing to dedicate his life to politics but his backbench career crumbled as he was swept up in the expenses scandal.

The former Bury North Labour MP became a lightning conductor for public anger after he was accused of claiming money for a mortgage he had already paid off.

The charges sparked a firestorm of public humiliation that culminated in his sentencing at Southwark Crown Court today.

Several days after he was charged with fraud, Chaytor claimed it is "not in my nature to roll over and die" and he would fight for a fair hearing.

Apparently unrepentant, he told a local newspaper that "throwing a few people to the wolves" will not solve deeper problems in the Parliamentary system.

And he attacked the media for making "outlandish claims" and suggested his "extremely complex" personal circumstances would refute the allegations.

But nine months later, in the face of overwhelming evidence built on a haul of incriminating paperwork Chaytor held up his hands to fraud.

Chaytor was elected to represent his home town - the marginal Bury North seat - in 1997 after twice standing unsuccessfully in Calder Valley.

He took the seat in his Lancashire birthplace as Tony Blair swept to power and held it until he stood down, after being suspended by Labour, earlier this year.

Born and brought up in the town, he was educated at Bury Grammar School before moving south temporarily to attend the University of London.

He graduated from Royal Holloway in 1970, but his studies continued later with a post-graduate certificate in education from Leeds University in 1976 and gaining an Master of Philosophy at the University of London in 1979.

During his teaching career, he worked in further education colleges in Britain and the United States.

Before his election he held senior posts at the Manchester College of Arts and Technology and Manchester College of Education.

Chaytor, who is married with three children, also served as a councillor in Calderdale for 15 years until he became an MP.

He has cited his main political interests as education, the environment, transport and foreign affairs and served on two select committees.