No privilege for disgraced former MP Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane-resigned his seat in disgrace three months ago
Image caption Denis MacShane resigned his seat in disgrace three months ago

A couple of days ago this tweet popped up in my Twitter account:

"Glad to see @DenisMacShane is not to be charged. Decent guy. Good sense prevails"

I had never heard of the person who posted the information in the first place but it had come to me because it had been re-tweeted by someone I have followed very closely for a long time.

That re-tweeter was Denis MacShane himself.

It took one phone call to Scotland Yard's press office to discover that Denis MacShane the disgraced former Labour MP for Rotherham in South Yorkshire, still has questions to answer.

Investigation reopened

By coincidence, on the same day those tweets had been posted, police had taken a decision to reopen a 22-month criminal investigation dropped last summer because at that time no evidence of fraud had emerged.

Within weeks, after consistently declaring his innocence to that police inquiry, Denis MacShane admitted in a letter to MPs on the Parliamentary sleaze watchdog, the Standards and Privileges Committee, that he had submitted bogus invoices in order to claim around £7,500 in expenses.

Mr MacShane, who has paid the money back, said he had made no "personal gain" but admitted that he had been "foolish" and should take responsibility for his actions by standing down.

Clearly, the man who was once Tony Blair's Europe Minister, had no idea of the enormity of the scandal he had sparked off or the consequences he faced.

In its later report the Standards Committee called it the "gravest case" it had ever investigated.

It demanded an unprecedented 12-month suspension from the House of Commons.

In fact, the punishment handed down by his fellow MPs left him with little alternative. In November 2012 he resigned the safe Labour seat he had held for 18 years.

Parliamentary privilege

Angered by this new evidence obtained by the Standards Committee, Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, demanded the police reopen its investigation.

But there was a problem. All evidence to Select Committees is given under the cloak of parliamentary privilege. It cannot be used in a court of law.

That was not good enough according to Philip Davies, who said: "If someone has committed an offence then they should face the full force of the law and to be protected by parliamentary privilege is most unsatisfactory."

In the three months since Denis MacShane stood down police and the Crown Prosecution Service say they have studied the Standards Committee's report and as a result detectives will re-examine the evidence.

Neither has given precise information on how that decision has come about but a clue comes from the chairman of the Standards Committee, Kevin Barron, the veteran Labour MP for Rother Valley which is right next door to the Rotherham Constituency.

"Denis MacShane's letter to the committee cannot be disclosed under parliamentary privilege" he said. "But perhaps the same cannot be said about the invoices themselves."

Denis MacShane has made no comment on these latest developments. Not so much as a tweet.