Former Labour Minister admits fiddling £30,000 in expenses

FORMER Minister Elliot Morley is facing a lengthy jail term after admitting being Westminster’s biggest expenses cheat only days before he was due to go on trial.

Lawyers for the ex-Scunthorpe MP admitted it was not a question of whether he would go to prison but for how long after he pleaded guilty to wrongly claiming more than £30,000 for mortgage interest he did not pay.

Having previously denied any wrongdoing, 58-year-old Morley changed his plea at Southwark Crown Court yesterday and admitted two charges of false accounting, becoming the fourth ex-MP – and first former Minister – to be convicted over his expenses.

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Simon Clements, reviewing lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Elliot Morley has today admitted his dishonesty. In doing so, he has accepted that his repeated and fraudulent claims for one mortgage that had been paid off and his excessive claims for another were not legitimate in any way.

“Mr Morley had claimed he was unaware the mortgage had been paid off. For most of us, paying off the mortgage is a red letter day and members of the public have found it difficult to comprehend his explanation that he was not aware that had happened.

“The parliamentary expenses system exists to assist the public’s representatives in carrying out their duties, but Mr Morley used it to line his own pockets with just over £30,000 – more than an average household’s annual income. Such behaviour is blatantly dishonest and cannot be excused.”

The charges relate to 40 false claims for mortgage interest on Morley’s home in Winterton, near Scunthorpe, between 2004 and 2007. He pocketed £30,428 in claims on a “phantom” mortgage and by inflating the amount he previously paid.

The amount he pocketed eclipses that wrongly claimed by other parliamentarians – David Chaytor, Jim Devine and ex-Barnsley Central MP Eric Illsley – who have already been jailed for fiddling their expenses

James Sturman QC, for the defence, told Mr Justice Saunders that his client accepted a jail sentence was likely but urged the judge to consider his “lifetime of public service”. Referring to a jail term, he added: “We know it is not a question of if but how long.”

A former teacher and Hull councillor, he became MP for Scunthorpe in 1987. In Opposition, he was spokesman on rural affairs and animal welfare. In Government, he served as Environment Minister from 2003 to 2006.

In an interview shortly after being charged, Morley said: “I want to stress I totally reject I have done anything wrong and look forward to being able to make my case in detail.”

He added that his defence would be “robust” and insisted: “Resigning now would be an admission of guilt and I am entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Outside court yesterday, he said “any comments I might make” will be at the next hearing.

Emma Boon, campaign director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Thanks to Morley taking so long to make an admission of guilt, taxpayers have had to suffer the insult not only of him stealing from them, but then lying about it and dragging out an expensive prosecution.”

She added: “This guilty plea is one more small step towards Parliament regaining public trust.”

Morley, wearing a dark blue suit and striped tie, spoke in court only to confirm his name and enter two guilty pleas. The brief hearing was adjourned for pre-sentence reports to be submitted by May 12.

Jim Devine, the first MP to stand trial over expenses, was jailed last month for 16 months for offences totalling £8,385.

Two other former Labour members, David Chaytor, who lived in Todmorden, and Eric Illsley, were jailed after pleading guilty to falsely claiming £22,000 and £14,500 respectively.

Former Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick awaits sentencing after being convicted of falsely claiming more than £11,000.