Former Labour MP Margaret Moran falsely claimed more than £53,000 in expenses, a jury ruled today.
The jury at Southwark Crown Court decided Moran, now 57, committed 15 counts of false accounting and six counts of using a false instrument, between 2004 and 2008, claiming almost her entire annual allowance in one bogus entry.
The BBC reports:
The court had heard that she was able to make a dry rot claim of £22,500 by “flipping” her two homes – changing which property was her second home and therefore allowing her to claim expenses on it.
She also changed dates on invoices for the work so that the money would be paid.
One invoice in August 2007 was for £14,805 – apparently for boiler repairs and work on her conservatory in her constituency home in Luton, when it was actually her home in Southampton, the court heard.
Another fake bill for more than £4,000 used an address for a building firm but the property actually belonged to an elderly couple.
She also claimed for three bedroom carpets at her one-bedroom Westminster flat, and £2,000 for a landline phone when it did not have one.
Jurors were unable to return a guilty verdict after the former MP for Luton South was ruled unfit to stand trial for reasons of mental health. She could be given a supervision order, hospital order or absolute discharge – but not jail.
Here are the details of some of her claims, from the original Telegraph report of May 2009:
During the period covered by the expenses claims published this week, Miss Moran first declared her second home as a flat in Westminster, a short walk from the House of Commons, where she installed a £4,756.40 new kitchen, fitted a £2,678 carpet and bought a bed worth £527.20.
The following year, after she had the garden in her constituency home in Luton redone, at a cost of £2,350, she wrote to the fees office asking to switch her designation there. Her note, in which she wrote “It has just come to my attention that these costs may be eligible under ACA – hence just being submitted” appear to confirm suspicions that MPs have been informally advising each other how to make the most of the allowances system.
In Luton, she spent £1,823.09 on bathroom repairs and £212.50 on bedding, along with £200 of food, before apparently embarking on regular shopping trips to buy items ranging from Pollyfilla to wallpaper, paint and fitted bedroom units costing £1,207.50.
She also claimed £4,200 for decorators, and purchased three separate items of musical equipment, including a £699.95 music system. The extensive work to the home in Southampton, which Mr Booker bought in 1988, two decades before his wife’s name was added to the mortgage documents, came to just £1,722 less than the maximum allowable, and she did not make any other claims for the whole of the year.
Initially, she justified her claims by saying she needed three homes “to have a family life, see my partner and do my job properly”, she had “done everything by the rules”, and “didn’t want to resign”; in May 09 she said:
“My partner works in Southampton. He has done for 20 years. If I’m ever going to see my partner of 30 years, I can’t make him come to Luton all the time, I have to be able to have a proper family life sometimes, which I can’t do unless I have, you know, I share the costs of the Southampton home with him…
“It is all within the claims policy and that’s why I’m angry about this because not only has it been very stressful for me and my family, it gives the incredibly misleading impression that somehow we’ve been dodgy, that we’ve been fraudulent or we’ve been corrupt. Nothing is further from the truth. As I say, I’ve done everything by the rules…
“I don’t want to resign. I want to continue to do a good job for my constituents; my party doesn’t want me to resign. If you haven’t done anything wrong, what is there to resign for?“
There had long been complaints about Moran’s conduct even before the Telegraph exposés. She would routinely order interns to work for eQuality Networks Ltd (EQN), a charity run by her partner, Michael Booker, a clear breach of official guidelines which state staff should be used solely for the purpose of assisting an MP in “performing parliamentary duties” – HMRC investigated in 2007 but there was not enough evidence and no further action was taken.
As I wrote three years ago, according to those who worked for her, Moran would routinely attempt to pressure staff into signing off questionable expense claims which were then passed to the fees office for approval, with examples including “ghost” journeys, in which her staff were asked to fill in blank taxi receipts and expenses incurred while she was working for EQN – again a fundamental breach of the rules. EQN, it turned out, wasn’t even registered with the Charity Commission.
And, as the Telegraph had pointed out, not content with her three UK homes, she also had a fourth home – in Spain, where she tried to block villagers’ access to their own houses, bulldozing a pathway across her holiday property in Granada and putting up gates. A judge said the access was a public right of way and ordered her to reopen it.
In an attempt to intimidate her neighbours (and maybe even the authorities), she pinned a notice to her gatepost using official House of Commons paper – yet another breach of the rules. When the story appeared in the British press, Moran contacted leading media solicitors – and then claimed their £881.25 bill back on her office expenses, and used her office fund to pay for £1,104.34 of furniture for her house.
A year later, and despite having been off work for months because of the “stress” of having been caught, she popped up in the March 2010 Sunday Times/Dispatches investigation into “Labour’s cash for influence scandal”; as I reported at the time:
Moran, unlike the other three [Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon], actually suggested she might start work immediately for the ficticious company, which is bad enough, considering she has another seven weeks’ MPs’ salary to collect before she cashes in on the parachute payments and pension, but made even worse by the fact that, since her propensity to put her hand in the expenses jar was exposed, she’s spent the past ten months off sick, unable to work.
She seems more than willing to work for this private company, however, and looked right as roses when “interviewed” by them. A picture of health, Moran claimed she had access to a “girls gang” of current and former ministers, among them Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears – also caught up in the expenses scandal – and Caroline Flint and Harriet Harman.
“Moran had appeared quite feisty during the 90-minute meeting. She offered to arrange meetings with ministers and civil servants, adding that it was important ‘never to underestimate a glass of wine, a few nibbles, a photo opportunity’.
“She suggested she was well connected with a ‘girls’ gang’ of ‘mates’ whom she could ring on behalf of clients.”
“However, back in her Luton South constituency, the MP who had the second-highest expenses of any MP and had to pay back £22,500 she claimed for treating dry rot, was not so readily available.
“After she had left the meeting, a second reporter phoned her constituency office, saying his mother wanted to see Moran about a housing problem. ‘She’s not doing any appointments,’ came the reply. ‘She’s not very well at the moment.’”
No contrition, no remorse – no guts to even face court herself. Named tenth in the book ‘Crap MPs – The 40 Worst Members of Parliament in History’, her fall from power is nearly complete. Only sentencing remains for this most devious and cowardly criminal.
Labour, Parliament, politics is well rid of her.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.