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Eric Illsley guilty plea - what now for Barnsley?

Len Tingle | 13:09 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Eric Illsley

Eric Illsley

Barnsley Central MP Eric Illsley has today become the first sitting member to be convicted of fraud for fiddling his expenses.

Right up until today's scheduled hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London he had protested his innocence.

But he switched his plea to guilty at the 11th hour to admit dishonestly inflating claims for reimbursement of his Council tax and other running costs at his second home in London to the tune of £14,000.

He will now have to wait a month to hear what his sentence will be.

At the back of his mind must be the case of David Chaytor, the former Halifax councillor and Lancashire MP who was sentenced to 18 months in prison just a few days ago.

But now come the questions for Barnsley and the House of Commons authorities.

The law says that any sitting MP is automatically thrown out of the house if sentenced to a year or more in prison.

Clearly it is up to the courts to decide the appropriate punishment.

If Eric Illsley receives less than 12 months he could insist on continuing as an MP. In theory he could still receive his salary from behind bars.

Nobody from the Labour Party in Yorkshire is speaking at the moment but privately I hear that is seen as the horror scenario.

Would he do it?

Well, he has stubbornly sat it out for months as an Independent after the Labour Party suspended him when he was charged just a few weeks after last year's general election.

On the occasions I have met him since then he has said how unfair it has been to single him out. He insists other MPs had been dealt with by sending a cheque for repayment of expense "accidentally" or "mistakenly" claimed and maybe a slap over the wrist from the parliamentary authorities.

Clearly the police and the court think his actions are far more serious than that.

This is all academic if his sentence is more than 12 months.

In which case he would join a small select group of sitting MPs who have been thrown out of the House because of lengthy jail sentences.

In fact I can only find the case of Peter Baker, the Conservative MP for South Norfolk, who was sentenced to seven years for forgery. Never heard of him? Not surprising it was in 1954!

John Stonehouse, the former Labour minister, resigned before he actually started his sentence for fraud in 1976.

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