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Ex-MP Devine 'made false expenses claims' court is told

02 February 11 17:43
Jim Devine arrives at court

A former MP used false documents to make claims on his parliamentary expenses for work that was not carried out, a court has heard.

Jim Devine, 57, the former Labour MP for Livingston, West Lothian, is on trial at Southwark Crown Court.

He denies two charges of false accounting relating to £8,745 worth of claims for cleaning and stationery.

Jurors were told he was almost always overdrawn and his claims were enough to "extinguish his overdraft".

Mr Devine succeeded Robin Cook as MP for Livingston at a by-election in 2005 triggered by the former foreign secretary's death.

Public purse

The court heard he had three homes - his constituency address in Livingston, his main home in Bathgate, West Lothian, and his second home in London.

As an MP he was allowed to make expenses claims for his designated second home - Mr Devine made claims for his London home.

Prosecutor Peter Wright QC said Mr Devine had made claims for leaflets that were never printed and for cleaning work that was not carried out.

The former MP had made the claims "with a view to gain for himself, or with an intent to cause loss to another - the public purse", Mr Wright said.

The first charge against Mr Devine alleges that, between July 2008 and May 2009, he dishonestly claimed £3,240 for cleaning services from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services for his London property.

The second charge alleges he claimed £5,505 for stationery from Armstrong Printing, using false invoices.

'Wind up'

Mr Wright said Mr O'Donnell provided legitimate cleaning services but was also the landlord of the former MP's local pub, in Elephant and Castle, south London.

Mr Devine had asked him to recommend a cleaner and work was done on his flat by the cleaner and a handyman in June 2008.

The court heard that Mr O'Donnell paid the workers, and Mr Devine paid him - Mr O'Donnell gave him a blank invoice to fill in.

But while he signed and dated a legitimate form for £1,890 on 30 June 2008, Mr Devine went on to submit five more forms for a total of £3,240 on later dates for work that was not carried out, the court heard.

Mr Wright said police had contacted the landlord in September 2009 to ask him about the five invoices, which "came as something of a surprise to Mr O'Donnell".

Printing claims

The landlord spoke to Mr Devine about it but the then MP was "dismissive", said the inquiry was a "wind up" and told Mr O'Donnell not to talk to the police again, the court heard.

The court heard Mr Devine had then tried to deny any knowledge of the invoices and tried to blame a secretary he accused of trying to frame him - something Mr Wright suggested was a "damage limitation exercise".

Referring to the two invoices connected to the printing claims, Mr Wright said: "The invoices were fiction. No such costs had been incurred.

"It was merely a device used by Mr Devine in which to receive a substantial amount of public money to which he was not entitled."

Mr Wright said the former MP was often overdrawn: "The money he received from the [Commons] fees office was sufficient to extinguish his overdraft."

He said all MPs were familiar with the Commons' "Green Book" of expenses rules, telling jurors: "He had every opportunity to acquaint himself with them. It was clearly in his best interests to do so. We say it's wholly unambiguous."

Mr Devine, a former psychiatric nurse and union activist, stood down as an MP last year. He denies the charges against him.

The trial continues.

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