Former Tory peer convicted for expenses fraud

LONDON Thu May 26, 2011 5:38pm BST

Lord Hanningfield leaves Southwark Crown court during a hearing on expense claims in London May 27, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Lord Hanningfield leaves Southwark Crown court during a hearing on expense claims in London May 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Former Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield was found guilty of six counts of fiddling expenses on Thursday, the latest parliamentarian to be convicted over a scandal that engulfed politicians and outraged voters.

Lord Hanningfield, 70, a former opposition spokesman in the House of Lords, was found by a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex to have falsely claimed nearly 14,000 pounds of parliamentary expenses between 2006 and 2009.

He had claimed for overnight stays in London when he had actually returned to his Essex home, the Press Association reported.

During his trial he had said he felt entitled to claim the allowance as he needed to go home to look after his dog, who he described as his closest friend.

He will be sentenced at a later date. As he left the court he said: "I'm devastated but I have no regrets. I did nothing wrong."

He had resigned from the Conservative party and stepped down as leader of Essex County Council when he was charged last year.

Prosecutors said the peer's excuse for his conduct was "completely unacceptable."

"The defence of Lord Hanningfield was that he was not paid a salary and that justified him claiming for expenses that he had never incurred," said Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Stephen O'Doherty.

"The jury has today seen through this feeble excuse for his conduct and rightfully agreed with the prosecution that such behaviour is blatantly dishonest."

Lord Hanningfield is the sixth parliamentarian to convicted over the expenses scandal that erupted in 2009.

Four former Labour members of parliament have been jailed, while former Conservative peer Lord Taylor of Warwick is awaiting sentencing.

(Reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Michael Holden)

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