London: The first ex-MP to be jailed over the Westminster expenses scandal woke up behind bars on Saturday after being sentenced to 18 months for falsely claiming more than GBP 22,000 of taxpayers' money.
David Chaytor, who represented Bury North for 13 years, admitted fiddling his expenses by forging tenancy documents, and was told by a High Court judge his punishment was needed to help restore public trust in politicians.
The 61-year-old Labour supporter is the first former lawmaker to be jailed since Conservative peer and top-selling author Jeffrey Archer received a four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 2001.
Under the home detention curfew scheme, Chaytor may only have to serve four-and-a-half months of his sentence behind bars before being tagged and released.
Passing sentence at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, Justice Saunders told the ex-MP that because he breached the "high degree of trust" placed on MPs, his offence had "wider and more important consequence" than other similar crimes.
"It is necessary their behaviour should be entirely honest if public confidence in the parliamentary system and the rule of law is to be maintained," he said.
Chaytor, of Lumbutts, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, was beginning his sentence at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London, where he was being strip-searched, photographed and fingerprinted before being issued with prison clothing.
The former lecturer initially denied the charges but changed his plea after failing to have the case thrown out citing parliamentary privilege and that he could not receive a fair trial because of media scrutiny.
He pleaded guilty last month to three counts of false accounting between November 2005 and January 2008.
The fraud involved bogus documents Chaytor submitted to support claims totalling GBP 22,650 for IT services and renting homes in London and his Bury North constituency which were in fact owned by him and his mother.
The court heard he only received GBP 18,350 because he had already reached his limit for the IT expenses and was not awarded the full amount for one rental claim.
Chaytor faces a potential six-figure legal bill for his defence and part of the prosecution costs, including several hearings at the High Court and Supreme Court.
In mitigation, James Sturman QC said Chaytor, who has repaid 19,237 pounds, showed "inexplicable stupidity" in submitting the fraudulent documents but was a "broken man" who had already paid a "quite devastating price" for his errors.
The former college lecturer stood down from parliament at the general election last year having been barred by Labour from standing for the party again after stories about his claims emerged.
Dozens of lawmakers were caught up in the expenses scandal after The Daily Telegraph newspaper obtained details of claims for everything from widescreen TVs to an ornamental duck house for one lawmaker's garden.
But the worst abuses came in claims for housing which sometimes amounted to tens of thousands of pounds over a number of year.
Hundreds of MPs were ordered to repay a total of GBP 1.12 million in the wake of the expenses scandal.
First Published: Saturday, January 08, 2011, 15:46