Friday, 8 April 2011

Elliot Morley: Game Over

At last he's caved in. Ex-Labour minister Elliot Morley has finally admitted dishonestly claiming more than £30,000 in parliamentary expenses, the largest sum of any former MP. In court yesterday he pleaded guilty to making excessive claims for mortgage costs between 2004 and 2007, and trousering cash for another loan that had actually been paid off.

Morley stepped down as an MP at the last election. In his attempt to avoid being tried under the ordinary criminal process, he fought all the way to the Supreme Court. Happily these squirmings failed, and yesterday at Southwark Crown Court his barrister said Morley accepted a jail sentence was now likely. "We know it's not a question of if, but how long," he said, while urging the judge to consider the former MP's "lifetime of public service." But how long had this blatant, calculated deceit been going on? And are these admissions a complete picture?

Pending his sentencing, Morley's been released on bail. He left the court head bowed, without speaking to journalists; no more airy promises to explain "genuine mistakes" and "oversights". For many months he'd maintained he hadn't realised his mortgage had been paid off, and so had continued to claim an allowance against it. For most of us, paying off the mortgage is a red-letter day and the public has found it rather difficult to comprehend his explanation.

Yesterday, Morley pleaded guilty to two charges of false accounting. He admitted to receiving £15,200 more than he was entitled to in inflated mortgage claims, and of submitting £16,800 in phantom mortgage claims after he'd redeemed the existing loan on a property near Scunthorpe. He wrongly filled out a total of forty forms relating to mortgage payments.

The Parliamentary expenses system exists to assist the public's representatives in performing their duties. But Morley used it to line his own pockets with just over £30,000 - more than an average household's annual income. As environment minister between 2003 and 2007, he's the most senior politician to plead guilty to fraud since the expenses scandal broke in 2009. He'll be sentenced next month.

Bye bye, Mr Morley. Enjoy your new second home.

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