Jail for disgraced MP who fiddled £14,500 out of ‘greed’

Eric Illsley arriving at Southwark Crown Court, in south London.
Eric Illsley arriving at Southwark Crown Court, in south London.
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RUINED former South Yorkshire MP Eric Illsley admitted he did not need the £14,500 of expenses he dishonestly claimed but acted out of “greed”, the judge who jailed him for a year said yesterday.

The 55-year-old, who was waking up behind bars this morning, has become the second disgraced former MP to be locked up for expenses offences.

The news broke as it was revealed Prime Minister David Cameron had sanctioned Barnsley-born cricketer Darren Gough to stand at the resulting by-election as a candidate for the Tories.

But the Strictly Come Dancing winner decided his other commitments made him too busy to be an MP.

Illsley, the former Labour MP for Barnsley Central, pleaded guilty to three charges of false accounting, admitting to dishonestly claiming payments for insurance, repairs, utility bills and council tax at his second home between 2005 and 2008.

Steve Houghton, Labour leader of Barnsley Council, said: “It’s a very sad day for Eric Illsley and his family that his political career has been brought to an end like this.

“But if you break the law you have to face the consequences of that. MPs should be no different to everyone else.

“Many people will still remember him for his good work, as well as recent events. He was a hard-working member of Parliament - whatever he’s done in relation to expenses, that’s still the case.

“He’s got to try to rebuild his life. In his case it’s a life sentence because people will remember the problems he’s had, and he and his family will have to cope with that.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Eric Illsley had already been suspended from the Labour Party and, following his custodial sentence, he has now been excluded from the party.”

The fraud came to an end only when the Commons authorities changed regulations in April 2008 to require MPs to provide receipts for all claims over £25, Southwark Crown Court heard. Previously MPs had to provide receipts only for expenses claims over £250.

Jailing him for 12 months, Mr Justice Saunders said the offences breached the “high degree of trust” placed in MPs by the Commons authorities to make honest claims, and that the expenses scandal has “tarnished the reputation of politicians and Parliament”.

He said: “Rebuilding that trust is likely to be a long process.

“Of course Mr Illsley bears only a small part of the responsibility for that loss of trust, but it is a significant part.”

He added: “He has frankly told the probation officer he didn’t need the extra money he took, and attributes his actions to greed.”

Wearing a dark suit and a blue tie with red spots, Illsley appeared red faced and at times close to tears during parts of the sentencing proceedings.

After Mr Justice Saunders told officers in the dock to “send him down”, he picked up his overcoat and brown leather holdall and waved to a friend in the public gallery.

Earlier, Illsley’s barrister William Coker QC told the court the convictions have ‘ruined’ the former politician: “At his age he sees very limited opportunities to make something of his life in his work and in the future.

“But he accepts ruin is what he deserves - the publicity, the humiliation and the shame.

“Because if you look at it, it’s a matter of simple physics, the higher a man is before he falls, the more painful his contact with the ground.”

Prosecutor Peter Wright QC said Illsley was paid £39,204.25 in expenses over the three-year period but the costs he actually incurred amounted to only £25,000: “Over the period in question a pattern emerges in which Mr Illsley submitted claims in which figures up to, but never over, £250 were claimed for various expenses that had not been claimed at all, or in respect of legitimate expenses that were much smaller and bore little resemblance to the actual sum claimed.”

It has emerged that former cricket star Darren Gough was approved to fight as a prospective Conservative MP for Illsley’s vacant seat in a phone call from PM David Cameron. Gough had already spoken to local Tories about the possibility of fighting the upcoming by-election, and the PM rang to say he thought it was a great idea.

But the former Yorkshire and England star, who won TV’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2005, later decided his other commitments meant he was too busy for Parliament. Instead he will campaign for the Conservatives in the March 3 Barnsley Central by-election.

Conservatives have no real prospect of winning the safe Labour seat, but a high-profile candidate like Gough could have helped them put a dent in the massive 11,093 majority secured by Illsley at last year’s General Election.

A Tory spokesman said: “We are delighted Darren will be campaigning for the Conservatives during the by-election, but his other commitments meant he can’t actually be the candidate.”