Trial of former MP Jim Devine
The trial of former Scottish Labour MP Jim Devine has begun at Southwark Crown Court. Mr Devine has pleaded not guilty to false accounting in respect of expenses claims submitted by him whilst he was an MP.
The prosecution allege that he dishonestly made false claims:
- between July 2008 and May 2009 for £3,240 in respect of cleaning services from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services, and
- between March 2009 and April 2009 for £5,505 in respect of stationery from Armstrong Printing.
In each case it is alleged that he submitted false invoices in support of the claims.
I have to say that, at this stage of the proceedings, the prosecution have made their opening statement, setting out their allegations, and the court has heard from some prosecution witnesses - but the defence have not yet made a statement to the jury (as far as I am aware) and the court has not yet heard from any defence witnesses.
So I do not know the nature of the defence case - and I can only speculate that Mr Devine will assert that he has not been dishonest. Whether that will be on the basis that he did not himself make the expense claims, or he did not know the detail of the items claimed, or that the claims made were valid, or that he believed them to be valid (even if, in the event, they were not) I cannot say. We shall have to wait and see.
Certainly the prosecution evidence sounds (in the absence of the defence case) rather ominous. It is said that Mr Devine requested receipted invoices from the 'suppliers' in respect of services / goods that were never provided and for which no payment was ever made.
Presumably the prosecution intend to show that those invoices were used in support of claims for expenses which were subsequently 'reimbursed' to Mr Devine. Apparently it is the prosecution case that Mr Devine's bank account was overdrawn prior to the receipt by him of these 'reimbursement' monies.
Unlike the recent case involving Lord Taylor, there is no suggestion in this case that the allowability of certain claims was ambiguous. The claims were not in respect of accommodation, subsistence or travelling expenses and there is no issue in Mr Devine's case concerning the location of his 'main residence'.
I would however advise readers not to prematurely draw conclusions as to Mr Devine's guilt or innocence.
I well remember being involved in a case concerning the manager of a public house and the alleged theft of cash takings. Prior to the case coming to court the defendant had in interview with the police under caution admitted responsibility for the missing cash. He held the safe key and the evidence suggested that the money had disappeared from the safe rather than the till.
When the prosecution evidence came before the Crown Court things were looking bad until the cross-examination of the owner of the public house. He had hired the manager (the defendant) and shown him what to do. He had explained the book-keeping system (which was a set of records and procedures of his own devising).
The cross-examination went something like this:
Was the owner aware that, when the manager was away from the premises, the safe key was left hanging on a hook in the manager's office and that the office was left unlocked? "Yes."
Had he (the owner) himself gone into the premises on occasion and 'borrowed' cash from the safe in the manager's office for his own purposes? "Yes."
Had he kept a record of that cash and told the manager about it? "No."
Could he be sure that the manager had removed cash from the safe without authority? "No", he replied, "I don't know who removed it - but he is the manager and so he is responsible for it."
Those answers, of course, fatally undermined the prosecution case. It was no longer possible to demonstrate that cash had been removed without authority by the defendant.
At the close of the prosecution case the judge accepted that there was no case to answer. The defendant was acquitted and the jury discharged.
The moral of the story is 'don't jump to conclusions'!