MP’s expenses evidence ‘kept from detectives’

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POLICE are facing calls to reopen an investigation into disgraced Rotherham MP Denis MacShane’s expenses, following the publication of yesterday’s report.

Scotland Yard was first called in to investigate the issue in 2010, although it was decided in July not to take any further action.

It emerged yesterday, however, that detectives were not provided with any of Mr MacShane’s evidence or other information amassed by the Standards and Privileges Committee ahead of its findings that he knowingly submitting 19 false invoices over a period of four financial years.

Last night, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said the force would consider the contents of the Commons watchdog’s report, although officials warned correspondence from Mr MacShane admitting expenses abuses could not be used to prosecute him because they are protected by Commons rules.

Conservative MP for Shipley Philip Davies urged police to revisit the allegations against Mr MacShane armed with the evidence in the “astonishing” report.

“I think that is a very sad state of affairs and all it will do is further undermine the reputation of parliament,” he said. “There will be millions of people out there who think that MPs are above the law.

“It seems that someone who should be brought to justice isn’t going to be. As far as I am concerned, if someone has committed an offence then they should face the full force of the law and to be protected by parliamentary privilege is most unsatisfactory.

“It cannot be good for the reputation of parliament when the people who set the laws are seen to be ducking them.”

The report follows a complaint made by the British National Party in June 2009 about claims made by Mr MacShane for “research and translation services”.

Between January 27, 2005, and January 11, 2008, he submitted 19 claims backed by invoices from an organisation called the European Policy Institute (EPI).

The organisation’s letterhead indicated there was a general manager and four associate directors. But Mr MacShane has now admitted the titles were “simply on the letterhead to make it look more official”, while the EPI had no office or permanent staff and its directors’ names were those of old friends.

Mr MacShane was “by far the main organiser” and also controlled the bank account.

He told the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he used the EPI to recoup expenses he paid out for research as part of his parliamentary work on European issues.

He argued he submitted the EPI bills for “ease of administration” for amounts he considered covered what had been spent in the period concerned.

Mr MacShane submitted a list of foreign travel to back up his argument, including visits to France, Germany, Poland, Kosovo and Switzerland.

But the commissioner has found much of the travel was against the rules. That included a trip to Paris for meetings around the European Book of the Year, which was “clearly not a parliamentary duty”.

He also criticised Mr MacShane for travelling to the French capital to interview candidates for a job as his personal assistant and for the apparent use of parliamentary funds to entertain European contacts.

The committee said the “real mischief” of Mr MacShane’s conduct was that the “method he adopted of submitting false invoices” allowed him to bypass rules to spend public money as he saw fit and said it was “impossible to escape the conclusion” he had claimed in that way to ensure he was not challenged over using taxpayers’ cash to fund travel for his work in Europe.

MPs said it was this misuse of cash that was “most serious” and suggested that of the £12,900 of claims he submitted it was likely around £7,500 was “outside the rules”. Mr MacShane has repaid the entire £12,900, the report said.

The committee also investigated Mr MacShane’s claims for 14 computers, six from the House of Commons and eight on his expenses. Some of the equipment had been given to interns and that reflected a “cavalier approach” to public funding, said Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon.

Clerk of the Journals Liam Laurence Smyth, who is responsible for parliamentary privilege issues, insisted last night that correspondence from Mr MacShane to the commissioner was protected under parliamentary privilege because it was collected as part of parliamentary proceedings.

Police could not rely on the letters in court, he added, but they may now be able to use the correspondence as a “map” to further their own inquiries.