Labour MP Carolyn Harris's aide cleared of pay rise fraud

image source, Wales News Service
image captionJenny Lee Clarke had denied carrying out the fraud in 2015, but made claims against the MP in court

A former aide to the deputy leader of Welsh Labour has been cleared of fraudulently increasing her salary.

Jenny Lee Clarke, office manager for Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, had been accused of committing fraud and forgery by rising her salary by £2,000.

Ms Clarke, of Penllergaer, Swansea, denied the charges and claimed the pay rise was authorised.

A jury at Cardiff Crown Court found her not guilty of all charges.

Ms Clarke had been accused of submitting a form which increased her annual pay from £37,000 to £39,000, and decreasing her weekly hours from 40 to 37.5.

It was alleged that she had forged Mrs Harris's signature on the form, which was submitted to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), in August 2015.

A jury of eight men and four women was told the alleged offences came to light when Ms Clarke was demoted and her replacement examined staff reports detailing hours and salary.

She was arrested in July 2016 and later charged with forgery and fraud.

She admitted to police signing Mrs Harris's name on the form and sending the email from her account, but insisted both were done on the MP's instruction.

image captionIt had been claimed in court that the Labour Shadow Equalities Minister Carolyn Harris MP was a 'homophobic bully'

Mrs Harris was elected as MP for Swansea East at the general election in 2015, after her predecessor Sian James stepped down.

Both Mrs Harris and Ms Clarke had worked for Mrs James before the election.

The trial heard allegations that Mrs Harris had pulled the hair of the defendant so hard that clumps came out.

Ms Clarke reported the incident to South Wales Police in January 2016, but no further action was taken due to the period of time that had elapsed.

Mrs Harris was also accused by Ms Clarke of "outing" the defendant, who is gay, to colleagues, and calling her a "dyke."

Mrs Harris said that she did not remember calling her a dyke, but if she did it was "office banter". She said she did not need to "out" Ms Clarke as her sexuality "was quite obvious".

An allegation that Mrs Harris had asked Ms Clarke to purchase a lawnmower on MP expenses while Mrs James was the MP for Swansea East was a "complete fabrication", prosecuting barrister Jim Davis added.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Clarke said: "I'm just elated it's concluded".

"Throughout my life, I have always been proud to do what I thought was right," Carolyn Harris said in response to the verdict. "I acted in accordance with Ipsa procedures."

"I respect the decision of the court," she added.

A spokesman for Ipsa said: "Ipsa's Compliance Officer will consider any complaints that may be received following this verdict".

The Labour party was asked to comment.

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