By Jason Theodorou
Three former Labour MPs and a Conservative Party peer will be tried in a criminal court, after being accused of manipulating their expenses. Mr Justice Saunders told Southwark Crown Court in central London that the four men were not protected by Parliamentary privilege.
MPs David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, alongside Tory peer Lord Hanningfield, are accused of false accounting over their expenses — for which they could face a maximum of seven years in prison. The four men have pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against them.
Morley is accused of claiming £30, 428 in interest payments between 2004 and 2007 towards a mortgage on his home, which he had allegedly already paid off. Devine is accused of submitting two invoices worth £5,5005 for services provided by a printing company, and faces additional charges for false invoices for cleaning costs from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services. Hanningfield faces charges for travelling expenses.
The group's lawyers had explored whether 'Parliamentary privilege' could have been used to spare the men from trial. It is a historical right used primarily as protection for freedom of speech. Mr Justice Saunders said there was 'no logical, practical or moral justification' for deferring the case. The judge said his ruling 'clears the way for what most people accused of criminal behaviour would wish for — a fair trail before an impartial jury'.
While the four men were given a right of appeal, the verdict will see them stand trial later this year. All four were barred from standing at the general election in the face of the allegations, and Hanningfield has been temporarily excluded from his party.
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