Council leader denies expenses claims

ESSEX County Council leader Lord Hanningfield was yesterday reported to be under investigation after allegations that he may have wrongly claimed thousands of pounds in parliamentary expenses.

Roddy Ashworth

ESSEX County Council leader Lord Hanningfield was yesterday reported to be under investigation after allegations that he may have wrongly claimed thousands of pounds in parliamentary expenses.

But the peer insisted he had done nothing improper and said a Liberal Democrat MP determined to blacken his name had made a groundless complaint to the police.

It is understood the politician in question is Colchester MP Bob Russell, who yesterday confirmed he had drawn some matters to the attention of various authorities

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Mr Russell had already raised the issue of Lord Hanningfield's allowances claims in the House of Commons on June 21.

The Daily Telegraph reported that detectives from the Metropolitan Police specialist crimes unit want to establish whether Lord Hanningfield stayed in London on evenings for which he claimed expenses or instead returned to his home in West Hanningfield, 46 miles away.

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Records show that the peer, who is also a Conservative front bencher at Westminster, claimed �17,120 in the year ending March 2008 for the cost of staying overnight in London in order to attend the Lords.

Between April 2001 and March 2008 Lord Hanningfield claimed a total of �99,970.

Rules state that peers whose main home is outside the capital can claim an allowance of �174 a night if their stay is for the purpose of attending sittings of the House. Receipts are not required.

Last night, Lord Hanningfield said a “Liberal Democrat MP has made a complaint about my expenses to the police.

“This MP has been determined to blacken my name with personal attacks in the press and in Parliament for actions that I have taken in trying to improve the quality of education in Essex.

“Discussion and debate over policy has given way to personal attacks and innuendo.

“The House of Lords authorities have no complaint in relation to my expenses and I am satisfied that I can account for them.

“I will not let this distract me from getting on and delivering on what is important to the people of Essex - enhanced services and better value for money - and from my duties in the House of Lords.''

Lord Hanningfield told the Daily Telegraph he could justify all his parliamentary claims and said there was a “vindictive campaign against me''.

He added: “I work extremely hard on the front bench and am satisfied that I can account for my expenses.''

And last night he told the EADT: “It is disappointing that we are in this position.

“Throughout my time in public life I have strived to do the utmost for what's best and for the people of Essex.

“Sadly, this shows that politics now is about smear and spin rather than delivery and making a real difference.

“It is no wonder that so many people are disillusioned with the political process.''

Scotland Yard last month announced it was looking into alleged abuse of the parliamentary expense system by a “small number'' of MPs and peers, but has declined to identify them.

A spokesman refused to say whether Lord Hanningfield is among those under investigation.

Mr Russell said he took Lord Hanningfield's claims about a Lib Dem MP to be a reference to himself.

He refused to confirm whether he had made a complaint to police about the peer, but said: “I have drawn to the attention of various authorities matters which I think are of concern which need looking at.''

On allegations he was attempting to smear the peer, he said: “He's entitled to say what he wants.

My job is to unearth the facts as I understand them and present them to the appropriate bodies to look at.''

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