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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Now an ex-MINISTER is jailed for expenses fraud

By Chris Greenwood

-Handed tissues in the dock by his solicitor, he is imprisoned for 16 months
-Morley excluded from Labour Party after being jailed
-He made £30,000 worth of inflated or phantom claims

The fall is complete: Ex-minister Elliot Morley arrives at court yesterday

Former Cabinet minister Elliot Morley wept yesterday as he was jailed for 16 months for committing the biggest fraud in the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The ex-Labour MP swindled more than £31,000 for mortgage payments from the public purse.

Morley, 58, was the first ex-minister to be imprisoned over the huge political controversy and the fifth Parliamentarian to be convicted.

He pocketed £31,333 in claims for a ‘phantom’ mortgage and by grossly inflating the amount he was paying for another.

Mr Justice Saunders said the disgraced politician was responsible for ‘blatant dishonesty’ which could not be explained by oversight.

Sentencing him at Southwark Crown Court, he said: ‘The results of this case are tragic for the defendant and his family. He has thrown away his good name and character.’

The judge said Morley’s breach of trust was worse than other cheating MPs’ because he had been a minister. But he added that the lack of sophistication in the fraud, including the fact Morley did not forge any documents, meant he did not receive a longer sentence.

Morley, wearing a dark suit and tie, nodded at the dock officer as he picked up a black overnight bag before being led to cells beneath the court.

Earlier, after the judge said he needed 20 minutes to consider the sentence, Morley left the dock and burst into tears.

He sat in the corner of the courtroom sobbing quietly as barristers offered him tissues. By the time Mr Justice Saunders returned, Morley had composed himself.

The former environment minister spent his last night of freedom with his wife and two children in London but told them not to attend the hearing because of the media scrum.

He was sent to Wandsworth Prison and could be released with an electronic tag by September, having served just four months behind bars.

A Labour Party spokesman said after the sentencing that the politician had now been excluded from the party.

'Elliot Morley had already been suspended from the Labour Party and following his custodial sentence he has now been excluded from the party,' he said.

The prosecution overshadows a political career lasting more than 20 years.

As MP for Scunthorpe since 1987, former teacher Morley was one of Labour's most prominent voices on agricultural issues and the environment.

He was party spokesman on rural affairs and animal welfare from 1989 until the 1997 election victory, and served under Tony Blair as environment minister from 2003 to 2006.

But during that time he was claiming thousands of pounds more than any of the other MPs convicted.

The court heard that under parliamentary expenses rules, Morley was entitled to claim only the interest element of mortgage payments on his second home.

Expenses scam: This is the second home of Elliott Morley who claimed more than £16,000 mortgage interest after the loan had been paid off. The Mortgage was secured against his other home in Scunthorpe

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, told the court said Morley had 'engaged in the wholesale abuse of the expenses system'.

The packed courtroom was told that between May 2004 and November 2007, Morley claimed significantly more than the value of his mortgage on his second home.

Despite paying off the mortgage of the property in 2006, he continued to claim £800 a month in fraudulent payments.

Between May 2004 and February 2006, he submitted 19 claims for 'excessive mortgage payments' to which he was not entitled, worth £15,200.

Between March 2006 and November 2007 he submitted 21 second-home allowance forms totalling £16,800 for payments on a mortgage that did not exist.

Jim Sturman QC, mitigating, said that once challenged Morley had paid back the full amount owed immediately.

He said: 'This is a tragic end to a lifetime of public service. He has done an enormous amount of good, often for no pay.'

The rear of Elliot Morley's house in Winterton. His house is on the right-hand side of the hedge
He added: 'He's made a grotesque error of judgment.'

Mr Justice Saunders said: 'The continuation of the claim for £800 a month after the mortgage had been redeemed can properly be described as blatant dishonesty.

'The results of this case are tragic for the defendant and his family. He has thrown away his good name and good character.'

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Morley's jail sentence is justice for taxpayers who he cheated and stole from.

'The damage done by the MPs' expenses scandal is still being repaired and it will take time to restore the public's trust in the system, but this is another step down that road.

'This sentence sends a clear message that even a former minister is not above the law, and stealing from the taxpayers he was supposed to represent is a very serious crime.'

Overclaim: Police officers stand outside the front gates to Elliott Morley's home in Winterton, near Scunthorpe. He made mortgage claims after he had paid off the loan secured against the property which cannot be seen from the road



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