Chris Davies: Full scale of disgraced Conservative MP’s expense abuse unveiled by whistleblower

Lizzy Buchan

A whistleblower has revealed the full scale of expenses fiddling by a Conservative MP who faces being removed from parliament by his constituents.

Brecon and Radnorshire MP Chris Davies could now be ousted from the Commons by a recall petition, triggered after he admitted to making false expenses claims last month.

The Tory MP issued an “unreserved apology” after his sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in April, saying he made “a mistake” and there was no attempt “make any financial gain.”

But former staffer Sarah Lewis, who managed Mr Davies’ office at the time was scathing of her old boss.

The 57-year-old quit the Brecon and Radnorshire Conservative Association – where she had worked since August 2014 – in April last year and is now suing it for constructive dismissal.

Her claim was due to be heard at Wales Employment Tribunal in Cardiff today after being adjourned earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a recall petition to oust the beleaguered MP – who was fined last month after pleading guilty to fabricating the invoices – will run until 20 June. If 10 per cent of constituents sign the petition, Mr Davies will be removed from office.

Ms Lewis was managing Mr Davies’ expenses when she discovered he had attempted to claim £700 worth of photos for his office walls through two smaller invoices for “furniture and pictures”.

She said, as was said in court, Mr Davies had made up dates and invoice numbers on the documents.

And she revealed how she unearthed a hole in Davies’ expenses within months of him taking office, which led to the MP’s expenses card being suspended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

Ms Lewis agreed with the Judge and was scathing about his defence that it was all a mistake.

“He only has himself to blame,” she said.

Ms Lewis was working at the branch office in Brecon, Powys, handling membership records, fundraising and general administration, when she was employed as an office manager for Mr Davies, who is based in a rented premises 17 miles away in Builth Wells.

Mr Davies had accrued a backlog and had his IPSA card suspended in August 2015 before Ms Lewis was parachuted in to Westminster to fix the mess.

She said: “I worked hard at reconciling all the monthly statements – and discovered he had over-claimed. “When I gave Chris the paperwork and told him how much he had to pay back, he banged it down on a filing cabinet. I was shocked.”

In April 2016, Mr Davies left receipts and invoices for Ms Lewis to submit to IPSA, including an invoice for £250 for “furniture/pictures” from Creative Photography Wales.

But when Ms Lewis called the photographer Nigel Forster, he told her the MP had been supplied with an invoice for £700.

She said: “He was surprised. Chris had created an entirely new invoice, with a different date and reference number. And he’d made it out for furniture and pictures, when Nigel had only supplied photos.”

Mr Forster confirmed this to The Independent.

Ms Lewis was horrified, saying: “I took my job, and the responsibility that went with it, very seriously. Chris put me in an awful position, potentially implicating me in his lie. There was no way I was going to be part of that.”

Mr Davies had already submitted a second invoice for £450 to IPSA himself, and he had been reimbursed the cash, she said.

Speaking at his sentencing Mr Justice Edis said: “It seems shocking that when confronted with a simple accounting problem, you thought to forge documents. That is an extraordinary thing for a man with your position and your background to do.”

The judge added: “There was no error here. What you did was done quite deliberately and it must have taken some time to create your fake documents.”

Mr Davies previously told The Sunday Times that he had made a mistake while struggling to balance a young family, his parliamentary and constituency duties, and visiting his father who had been diagnosed with cancer.

He said: “For the last 14 months I’ve been under investigation and it has been hell. It’s my fault, I only have myself to blame. It has been extremely difficult. It feels like being hit by a double-decker bus from every conceivable direction. I have been so lucky to have a strong and loving family, otherwise I don’t know how I would have coped.”

Mr Davies’ office declined to comment further when approached by The Independent.

Former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya was the first MP to lose her seat through a recall petition earlier this year, after she was jailed for lying about speeding offences.

In 2018, DUP MP Ian Paisley avoided being expelled from the Commons after he failed to declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government. The recall petition missed the threshold by less than 500 signatures.