Disgraced former Labour MP Jim Devine has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for expenses fraud. Devine was convicted last month at Southwark Crown Court in London. He was found guilty on two counts of false accounting relating to fake invoices for cleaning and printing work totalling £8,385. The invoices had been submitted to House of Commons officials for payment between July 2008 and May 2009.
Devine was formerly the election agent for the late Robin Cook, and became the Labour MP for Cook’s Livingston constituency after Cook’s unexpected death. Devine was no loose cannon within Labour and not the naive innocent he portrayed himself to be. Devine was a Labour establishment figure who held several key positions within the Labour Party in Scotland, he was party chairman from 1994 to 1995. If anyone ought to have been aware of ‘established practice’ amongst Labour MPs, it was Jim Devine.
Devine fought the charges to the end, claiming that he was following advice given with a “nod and a wink” by a fellow Labour MP in a House of Commons bar. Devine declined to name this MP. Despite Labour’s attempts to distance themselves from Devine two Labour MPs, Tom Watson and Midlothian MP David Hamilton, made statements to the court as character witnesses in his support. Both denied advising him to make the expenses claims in question.
In an attempt to defend himself Devine made a series of confused and contradictory claims to the court in as he sought to deflect blame and accused his former office manager Marion Kinley of taking the money. He had been ordered to pay his former office manager £35,000 for unfair dismissal by an employment tribunal. The tribunal found that Devine had treated his former employee in a shocking and disgraceful manner which made it impossible for her to continue her work.
Devine has now declared himself bankrupt, and Ms. Kinley faces difficulties in receiving the compensation Devine owes her for the distress and suffering he caused her. To date she has not received any compensation for Devine’s misdeeds.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Saunders branded Devine a liar, saying that the Labour MP had “set about defrauding the public purse in a calculated and deliberate way.” The judge added that Devine’s claims that another MP told him that what he did was ‘accepted practice’ were without foundation and that the invoices he had submitted were ‘entirely bogus’. The judge continued, “These offences constituted a gross breach of trust which, along with others, had had the effect of causing serious damage to the reputation of Parliament. Mr Devine made his false claims at a time when he well knew the damage that was being caused to Parliament by the expenses scandal but he carried on regardless.”
Devine was led away from the dock by prison officers. He is unlikely to serve more than eight months of his sentence, and with good behaviour may spend only four months behind bars.
Devine is the third Labour MP to receive a prison sentence for expenses fraud. English Labour MPs David Chaytor and Eric Illsley have already been jailed after pleading guilty to false accounting. A Conservative peer, Lord Taylor of Warwick, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to similar charges.