UK Politics

Ex-MP Denis MacShane pleads guilty over expenses

Denis MacShane
Image caption Mr MacShane quit as an MP last year

Ex-Labour MP Denis MacShane has pleaded guilty to false accounting over parliamentary expenses.

During a hearing at the Old Bailey in London, Mr MacShane admitted false accounting by putting in fake receipts for £12,900 of "research and translation" services.

The former Europe minister used the money to fund trips to the continent.

Sentencing was adjourned until 19 December. He was granted unconditional bail.

Mr Justice Sweeney told MacShane, 65, that "all sentencing options remain open". The maximum sentence for false accounting is seven years.

MacShane was an MP for 18 years, entering Parliament in a by-election in 1994.

  • He served as Europe minister under Tony Blair between 2002 and 2005
  • Prior to entering politics, he worked for the BBC and the International Metalworkers Federation
  • His father was Polish and he changed his surname from Matyjaszek to his Irish mother's maiden name
  • He has been married twice and has also had relationships with broadcaster Carol Barnes and writer Joan Smith
Image caption Denis MacShane was one of the most prominent pro-Europeans during the last Labour government

The BBC's political correspondent Chris Mason said MacShane entered his guilty plea during a short appearance on Monday, admitting filing 19 fraudulent invoices between January 2005 and January 2008.

The Commons authorities began looking at his claims in 2009 and referred the matter to police within months after identifying potential criminal activity.

But the long-standing principle of parliamentary privilege meant detectives were not given access to correspondence with the standards commissioner in which MacShane described how signatures on receipts from the European Policy Institute (EPI) had been faked.

Letters emerged

The EPI was controlled by MacShane and the general manager's signature was not genuine.

One letter, dated October 2009, described how he drew funds from the EPI so he could serve on a book judging panel in Paris.

But the letters only emerged in November last year after Scotland Yard said it was taking no further action and the cross-party standards committee published a report recommending a 12-month suspension from the House.

It said MacShane's transgressions were the "gravest" they had come across and justified the toughest sanction available to them.

MacShane resigned as MP for Rotherham before the punishment could be imposed but maintained that he did not personally profit from the claims.

However, the police re-opened their probe in the light of the fresh evidence and the 65-year-old was charged in May - even though the letters are still not thought to be admissible in court.

Parliamentary rules

His guilty plea has raised questions about the protection offered to MPs by parliamentary privilege rules.

The Commons authorities withheld material from the original police investigation on the basis it had been generated during parliamentary proceedings, and so was covered by the established principle intended to guarantee politicians freedom of speech.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said this was the first time it had arisen and the situation should be urgently reviewed.

"It is important MPs are not seen to be in a privileged position," he told the BBC News Channel. "I think it should be same as any other documentation, that the police should be able to get access to it to decide whether a criminal offence has taken place."

Four MPs and two peers have been sent to prison as a result of the expenses revelations from 2009. Their sentences ranged from nine to 18 months. One further MP, Labour's Margaret Moran was given a supervision order instead after suffering mental health problems.

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