Disgraced ex-Sheffield Hallam MP and convicted fraudster Jared O'Mara spends first year behind bars

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O'Mara's fraudulent expenses scheme, which he hoped would pay off his cocaine debts, was described as 'deliberate, cynical - and of course - dishonest'.

First year in prison

Disgraced former-Sheffield Hallam MP, Jared O’Mara, has now spent his first year in prison, after being found guilty of attempting to defraud the taxpayer out of thousands of pounds by submitting false expense claims to fund his cocaine habit. 

O’Mara made history when he became Sheffield Hallam’s first ever Labour MP in June 2017, but less than six years later he was sent to begin a four-year prison term in February 2023 for what Judge Tom Bayliss KC described as a 'deliberate, cynical – and of course – dishonest' expenses scheme. 

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He is now a year through his four-year prison sentence, of which he is likely to serve up to two years behind bars.

"You were in severe financial difficulties. Those difficulties were caused by a hedonistic and self-indulgent lifestyle, fuelled by the consumption of large amounts of vodka, and – of course – cocaine"

Judge Bayliss

Jury found O'Mara guilty of six counts of fraud

O'Mara was charged with the fraud offences in August 2021, and during his trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023, he had sought to deny any wrong-doing, but jurors rejected his claims of innocence when they found him guilty of six counts of fraud.

During the course of the trial, the jury were told that O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy and autism, had racked up a debt of a 'few' thousand pounds to a drug dealer in the months leading up to his offending in June to August 2019.

Jared O'Mara was charged with the fraud offences in August 2021, and during his trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023, he had sought to deny any wrong-doing, but jurors rejected his claims of innocence when they found him guilty of six counts of fraudJared O'Mara was charged with the fraud offences in August 2021, and during his trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023, he had sought to deny any wrong-doing, but jurors rejected his claims of innocence when they found him guilty of six counts of fraud
Jared O'Mara was charged with the fraud offences in August 2021, and during his trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023, he had sought to deny any wrong-doing, but jurors rejected his claims of innocence when they found him guilty of six counts of fraud | SYP/Adobe

O'Mara committed fraud offences after racking up thousands of pounds of drug debt

"You were in severe financial difficulties. Those difficulties were caused by a hedonistic and self-indulgent lifestyle, fuelled by the consumption of large amounts of vodka, and – of course – cocaine," Judge Bayliss said.

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O’Mara, formerly of Walker Close, Grenoside, submitted the fraudulent expense claims to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to fund what prosecutors described as an ‘extensive’ cocaine habit. None of the claims were ever paid out.

The claims were submitted in the last few months of O'Mara's short tenure as Sheffield Hallam MP, which spanned just over two years, between June 2017 and August 2019. 

Four of the invoices, totalling £19,400, related to a 'fictitious' organisation called Confident about Autism South Yorkshire.

O’Mara, formerly of Walker Close, Grenoside, submitted the fraudulent expense claims to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to fund what prosecutors described as an ‘extensive’ cocaine habitO’Mara, formerly of Walker Close, Grenoside, submitted the fraudulent expense claims to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to fund what prosecutors described as an ‘extensive’ cocaine habit
O’Mara, formerly of Walker Close, Grenoside, submitted the fraudulent expense claims to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to fund what prosecutors described as an ‘extensive’ cocaine habit | Submit

Disgraced MP sought to 'hide behind' his disability

Following O’Mara’s conviction, a spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police said O’Mara had sought to 'hide behind' his disability if the fake invoices were ever challenged, even going so far as to 'invent' an autism support service.

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DC Kathryn Hughes, investigating, said in February 2023: "O’Mara clearly viewed IPSA as a source of income that was his to spend however he wanted – and that included funding his extensive cocaine habit.

"Our enquiries, including analysis of the defendants’ digital devices, revealed he was living well beyond his means and had a significant drug problem. He was in a dire financial situation, including being in debt to a dealer. It was evident he had seen this opportunity as a solution to his problems – all at the taxpayers’ expense."

Judge Bayliss told the court that the net total of O’Mara’s fraud amounted to £52,050 when the £28,500 annual salary for his 'constituency Support Officer,' John Woodliff, which had begun to be paid out by IPSA, was taken into consideration. Mr Woodliff was also charged with one count of fraud, but jurors acquitted him of the offence.

O’Mara made history when he became Sheffield Hallam’s first ever Labour MP in June 2017, but less than six years later he was sent to begin a four-year prison term in February 2023 for what Judge Tom Bayliss KC described as a ‘deliberate, cynical – and of course – dishonest’ expenses schemeO’Mara made history when he became Sheffield Hallam’s first ever Labour MP in June 2017, but less than six years later he was sent to begin a four-year prison term in February 2023 for what Judge Tom Bayliss KC described as a ‘deliberate, cynical – and of course – dishonest’ expenses scheme
O’Mara made history when he became Sheffield Hallam’s first ever Labour MP in June 2017, but less than six years later he was sent to begin a four-year prison term in February 2023 for what Judge Tom Bayliss KC described as a ‘deliberate, cynical – and of course – dishonest’ expenses scheme | Mix

Lack of remorse

"You abused your position as a Member of Parliament to commit fraud. You have not shown a single degree of remorse," Judge Bayliss told O’Mara, who was aged 41 when he was jailed on February 9, 2023.

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Judge Bayliss said Mr Woodliff 'simply could not have' fulfilled his duties in the role – which were outlined in the contract drawn up by O’Mara – and, was instead, being paid for his 'friendship' and providing 'some help' with domestic duties.

O’Mara’s friend and former 'Chief of Staff' Gareth Arnold, who was aged 30 at the time of the sentencing hearing, then of School Lane, Dronfield, was also convicted of three counts of fraud, relating to the invoices involving Confident about Autism South Yorkshire.

O’Mara and Arnold were also cleared of two and three counts of fraud, respectively.

Arnold was sentenced to 15 months’ custody, suspended for two years.

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Arnold (right) was sentenced to 15 months’ custody, suspended for two years, while O'Mara (left) was jailed for four years during a sentencing hearing held at Leeds Crown Court (pictured) on February 9, 2023Arnold (right) was sentenced to 15 months’ custody, suspended for two years, while O'Mara (left) was jailed for four years during a sentencing hearing held at Leeds Crown Court (pictured) on February 9, 2023
Arnold (right) was sentenced to 15 months’ custody, suspended for two years, while O'Mara (left) was jailed for four years during a sentencing hearing held at Leeds Crown Court (pictured) on February 9, 2023 | Mix

O'Mara's 'Chief of Staff' reported him to police before being convicted of fraud alongside him

The court heard how Arnold took on the role of O’Mara’s Chief of Staff on June 1, 2019, following a mass exodus of staff from O’Mara’s office. He reported O’Mara to South Yorkshire Police just over a month later on July 2, claiming he was concerned his employer was submitting 'fake expenses to the Government'.

Judge Bayliss said he believed Arnold contacted the police after realising the situation 'couldn’t continue' and resolved 'to do something about it'. While Arnold did remain in O’Mara’s employ for some weeks after making the call to the police, Judge Bayliss said Arnold did not continue with his part in the fraud and chose to leave in August when O’Mara’s behaviour deteriorated further.

Prosecution barrister, James Bourne-Arton, said the fraud perpetrated by O’Mara and Arnold was not a 'victimless crime,' adding that it had undermined the public’s'‘trust and confidence' in both MPs and in IPSA – which was set up in the wake of the expenses scandal.

“O’Mara clearly viewed IPSA as a source of income that was his to spend however he wanted – and that included funding his extensive cocaine habit."

DC Kathryn Hughes

'Disingenuous' apology

Representing O’Mara, Mark Kelly KC, said the former Sheffield Hallam MP wished, through him, to 'apologise to his constituents for his failure to resign in October 2017 when he felt that he was being hounded by the media…he felt under pressure by the media for the circumstances that came to light after he became a MP'.

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Mr Kelly appeared to be referring to homophobic and misogynistic comments made by O’Mara online a decade before he was elected, which resurfaced after he became a MP, and resulted in him having the Labour whip removed. He subsequently left the Labour Party and opted to represent the constituency as an independent.

O'Mara was jailed following a trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023O'Mara was jailed following a trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023
O'Mara was jailed following a trial at Leeds Crown Court in January and February 2023 | NW

But Judge Bayliss branded O’Mara’s apology as 'entirely disingenuous'.

"You must have realised early on that you were wholly unsuited to the role; but you carried on regardless...drawing a salary but doing little or no parliamentary work.

"You are not here because of that and I do not aggravate your position because of it. It is irrelevant to these proceedings."

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Mr Kelly continued by describing the circumstances surrounding O’Mara’s offending as 'a sad chain of events'.

O'Mara 'wasn't suitably qualified to become an MP'

"He’s an inadequate man, an inadequate individual, unable to cope with the stresses and strains of public life. He came under the microscope of public attention and was unable to cope, as we know from the evidence that came before the courts. Taking drugs, consuming alcohol, distancing himself, alienating himself from those who were around him, his staff."

"The evidence suggests he simply wasn’t suitably qualified to become an MP," Mr Kelly said.

However, Judge Bayliss said he found that to be a ‘difficult concept’ because it is a role, for which there are no 'suitability qualifications' and is intended to be a position that is open to everyone. 

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"No-one should be prevented from seeking election," he said, adding that measures are in place, including a disability budget, to ensure that 'those with a disability can function as a MP'.

O'Mara has now served one year of his four-year prison sentenceO'Mara has now served one year of his four-year prison sentence
O'Mara has now served one year of his four-year prison sentence | SYP

Fraudster Arnold deemed to pose 'low risk of harm'

He also rejected a suggestion from Mr Kelly that O’Mara never had any hope of any of the fraudulent expense claims ever being paid out, stating that it was only down to the 'vigilance' and 'diligence' of IPSA that attempts by O’Mara and Arnold to defraud the taxpayer were thwarted.

Giving evidence in court, a probation officer who prepared a pre-sentence report on Arnold’s behalf, said he was someone with a 'supportive and close family,' and also enjoyed the support and friends and others in the community.

“You abused your position as a Member of Parliament to commit fraud. You have not shown a single degree of remorse"

Judge Bayliss to O'Mara

Arnold does not have any previous convictions, and is also deemed to pose a low risk of harm, and of reoffending; and has at least one or two offers for employment after proceedings have concluded, the probation officer told the court.

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He added that Arnold, who had moved to Spain after his offending was carried out, is someone who has previously struggled with mental health problems, including depression, for which he currently takes medication.

O’Mara was elected as Sheffeld Hallam’s first ever Labour MP in one of the biggest shocks of the June 2017 general election, winning the seat from the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, and former deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

He had the Labour Party whip withdrawn after misogynistic and homophobic comments he made online a decade earlier resurfaced, and subsequently left the party, choosing to represent the constituency as an independent.

O’Mara confirmed he would not run again in Autumn 2019, and Labour’s Olivia Blake was elected to represent Sheffield Hallam with a slim majority of just 712 in the December 2019 general election.