Margaret Moran: Expenses scandal took toll on mental health

Margaret Moran, 2011 The reputation of former Luton South MP Margaret Moran now lies in tatters.

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She was one of the biggest casualties of the 2009 expenses scandal.

Now that a jury has decided she did wrongly claim parliamentary reimbursements, the reputation of former Luton South MP Margaret Moran lies in tatters.

Her claims, made between 2004 and 2008, amounted to about £60,000, but £53,000 of it she was not entitled to.

The scandal has taken a toll on Moran, who was found unfit to stand trial because of mental health issues.

Born in Bethnal Green, she entered parliament in 1997, taking the Luton South seat from the Conservatives.

One of the most active and dynamic of Labour's 1997 intake, Moran came to Westminster with a strong reputation as the successful former leader of Lewisham Council.

'Gross inaccuracies'

She went on to win two further elections in 2001 and 2005.

And when the expenses scandal broke in 2009, Moran was initially strident in her defence.

Speaking to reporters in May that year, she claimed "everything has been fully within the rules" and there were "gross inaccuracies" in reports about her expenses, which were "potentially actionable".

Margaret Moran, 2007 A judge decided Margaret Moran was unable to stand trial on mental health grounds

Moran had "flipped" her designated second home repeatedly, whilst also making claims for properties in Luton and London.

She claimed £700 for a television, had a new kitchen installed, shelled out £2,600 on a new carpet and £1,800 on bathroom repairs.

One invoice - for £14,805 - was apparently for boiler repairs and work on her conservatory in her constituency home in Luton. It was actually spent on her house in Southampton.

An invoice for £22,500 submitted in August 2008 turned out to have been used to fund 'home improvements' rather than, as claimed, dry rot.

Moran also tried to claim £47 for printing 50 Christmas cards but was told greetings cards were not covered by Parliamentary expenses.

"I have to be able to have a proper family life sometimes," she told BBC News when the claims were made public, "which I can't do unless I share the Southampton costs."

Asked by BBC News about the television purchase, Moran replied: "It was a nice telly and we didn't have one."

Rather than resign immediately, she said she would step down at the 2010 election.

Analysis

This is the final chapter of a story that began in 2009 when the MPs' expenses scandal first emerged.

Margaret Moran was immediately pointed out as one of the worst offenders, because she had used parliamentary expenses to improve a house that wasn't in London or her constituency of Luton North.

She agreed to give me an interview to answer the allegations and I drove to Southampton, where she confidently defended herself. How different was the figure who shuffled into court before she was declared unfit to stand trial.

A former assistant government whip who had once campaigned over issues such as domestic violence, arranged marriage and cleaning up the internet, she was a broken woman.

The ruling that she has falsely claimed £53,000 in expenses is a dishonourable conclusion to what was once a promising parliamentary career.

But while on sick leave - during which constituents were told she was too unwell to speak to them - Moran was secretly filmed offering herself up for lobbying services. She later claimed she had meant only after she had stepped down as an MP.

In 2011, it led Moran to the dock.

'Serious consequences'

She was accused of 15 counts of false accounting and six of using a false instrument over the claims for parliamentary expenses.

Unable to hold back her tears, the former MP was almost unrecognisable.

In April this year, a judge decided she was unfit to stand trial on mental health grounds.

This meant that rather than assessing whether she was guilty or not guilty, jurors were told to decide whether Moran committed the acts alleged and whether they amounted to the offences with which she was charged.

Mr Justice Saunders told the jury: "It would be unfair for you to be able to find her guilty when she has had no opportunity to give her side of the story.

"Doctors have said to require her to attend court could have serious consequences for her physical health."

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