U.K. MPs' expenses to be investigated by police

Friday, June 19, 2009

According to the BBC, the Metropolitan Police Service of London in the United Kingdom announced today that its Specialist Crime Directorate will start an investigation into members of the U.K. Parliament, or MPs, who have been implicated in the on-going scandal about MPs' expense claims. The investigation will be overseen by Janet Williams, a former special branch commander and run by the economic and specialist crime command unit.

The House of Commons & Big Ben, London
Image: Carlesmari.

Since the The Daily Telegraph published details of MPs expenses, which ranged from a floating duck house to a pornographic movie for the husband of an MP, there has been public outrage at the claims. Many MPs have been forced to step down at the next general election.

On Friday, Parliament published the list of MPs expenses that The Telegraph had received, but with many claims blacked out and redacted. This in itself has provoked surprise and anger with the British public.

The Met was quoted as saying "After consideration by the joint Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service assessment panel the Met has decided to launch an investigation into the alleged misuse of expenses by a small number of MPs and Peers."

The police did not name any of the people who were to be investigated, but the BBC reported that through its own sources it had discovered that they included Labour members of the lower house of Parliament, the House of Commons, David Chaytor and Elliot Morley, and Labour member of the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords, Baroness Uddin.

the Met has decided to launch an investigation into the alleged misuse of expenses by a small number of MPs and Peers

—Met Spokesman

Mr. Chaytor confirmed that the police had contacted his solicitor, and that he expected to be talking to the police within the next few days, to (in his words) "explain my case, explain what happened", and "clear my name".

Any expenses claims made will be investigated to see whether they constitute offences. Such offences are likely, by their natures, to be offences under the 2006 Fraud Act, in particular "Fraud by false representation", as defined in § 2 of the Act. (This covers claims made over the past year, approximately. Any expenses claimed prior to that Act coming into force would have to constitute offences under the Theft Act 1978.) One consequence of this is that only those members of Parliament whose claims might have been dishonestly made will be subject to investigation.

The requirement, that the claim be dishonest for it to be fraud by false representation, means that any MPs' expense claims that correctly and honestly described what expenses were being claimed, or that were incorrect but not known by the MP to be incorrect when they were made, will not qualify as fraud according to law. An expense claim for (for example) a floating duck house is not fraud under the Act if it really was for a floating duck house, as claimed. Whereas an expense claim for (for example) payments for a mortgage that did not exist would qualify as fraud under the Act, subject to the additional requirement that the person making the expense claim knew that the mortgage that did not exist and thus was making a knowingly false representation about the thing being claimed for.