Essex: MP’s anger over peer’s expenses
COLCHESTER’S MP has called for a full public inquiry into Lord Hanningfield’s use of his council credit card after it emerged that the disgraced peer had spent more than £286,000 on luxury hotel stays.
Sir Bob Russell said he found it difficult to accept Hanningfield’s use of the card to pay for trips to India, China and the Bahamas.
City of London Police announced this week it would be taking no further action after investigating Hanningfield’s spending while leader of Essex County Council, saying there was insufficient evidence.
But the council published a full list last night of Hanningfield’s credit card transactions between 2005 and 2010 as part of its review of spending at the authority.
The 71-year-old, real name Paul White, from West Hanningfield, Essex, was last year jailed for falsely claiming parliamentary expenses.
He served nine weeks of a nine-month sentence and was ordered to repay more than £30,000.
The credit card log includes flights to the Bahamas costing £5,652 followed by a stay at the Wyndham Nassau which has been described as “paradise” and offers its own lagoon and Las Vegas-style casino.
On another trip Hanningfield spent £1,538.30 for a stay at the Hotel Imperial in Delhi, described as “the best luxury hotel in India”.
Hanningfield also travelled to destinations including the US, Australia, Italy, France, Finland and Uganda.
Sir Bob, a Liberal Democrat MP, said the revelations reinforced his call for there to be a full, independent public inquiry.
He added: “Matters cannot be left here. I find it difficult to believe that amongst the most senior of officers at Essex County Council – and others at County Hall within the finance department – the extravagance of Lord Hanningfield was not known.
“The sums involved are huge. Just where did the £286,000 he spent on his credit cards in just five years go?”
Sir Bob also called for a statement from the Council’s Internal and External Auditors of what action, if any, they had taken during the five years Lord Hanningfield had been spending such large sums through his county council credit card.
Sir Bob added “I am a great fan of the Little Chef all-day breakfasts – but to see that Lord Hanningfield spent £42.94p on a single breakfast at one Little Chef shows that he must have pigged himself into some sort of record.”
The thousands of transactions revealed by the council include spending on meals, books, flowers and train journeys.
The report states that Hanningfield received a further £236,644 in expenses and allowances between 2006 and 2011.
It adds that although Lord Hanningfield reimbursed costs identified as being personal spending, there had been issues with a lack of receipts and expenditure above recommended guidelines.
The council admitted controls on the former council leader’s spending had not been sufficiently “stringent”.
Council leader Peter Martin said that since Lord Hanningfield left the council, action had been taken to tighten the authority’s “governance framework”.
Mr Martin said: “Lord Hanningfield was obviously a large part of the authority for a number of years but it is three years since he stepped down as leader and a lot has changed since then. It is now time to look forward rather than back.”
After City of London Police announced its decision, Hanningfield said he was “relieved” but called on the council to launch an investigation into why the allegations were made.
He said: “I now believe that the council must examine its actions including the activities and motivations of those senior officials who ran and continue to run the authority.”
A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said the foreign trips had been made in order to build international trade links.