Former MP accused of invoice fraud had ‘dysfunctional’ office, court told

A former MP had a “dysfunctional” office that was “haemorrhaging staff” at the time he is accused of making fraudulent expense claims, a court has heard.

Jared O’Mara, 41, who represented the constituency of Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, is on trial for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

Prosecutors say O’Mara tried to fraudulently claim up to £30,000 in taxpayers’ money to fund an “extensive cocaine habit”.

On Tuesday, Georgia Wilson, director of MP services at Ipsa, told Leeds Crown Court she began investigating some of O’Mara’s expense claims after being told by South Yorkshire Police that they had received a report about a claim submitted to Ipsa for approximately £3,000.

Ms Wilson confirmed she was aware that by the time the alleged “dishonest” invoices were submitted in June 2019, all but one staff member in O’Mara’s office had left.

Asked by Mark Kelly KC, representing O’Mara, whether she had become aware during her investigation that O’Mara’s office was “dysfunctional” and that there had been a “haemorrhaging of staff” in about April 2019, Ms Wilson said she had.

The court heard O’Mara was elected as a Labour Party member but by the time of the alleged fraudulent claims, he had left the party and was sitting as an independent MP.

Jurors heard he had lost his office manager, who had been responsible for submitting his expenses claims, in April 2019.

Asked by Mr Kelly whether there had been issues with any of O’Mara’s invoices before that time, Ms Wilson said: “No, and we did a full backward-looking audit to check whether we had paid any invoices that shouldn’t have been paid.”

Jared O’Mara court case
John Woodliff (Jon Super/PA)

She agreed with Mr Kelly that by June, invoices from O’Mara’s office were “ad hoc” and “looked completely in disarray”.

Jurors have previously heard that Ipsa – the organisation set up after the expenses scandal to regulate MPs’ staffing and business costs – did not pay any of the allegedly fraudulent claims due to a lack of evidence that any of the work had been carried out.

Ms Wilson said she was aware that in June 2019 O’Mara had been experiencing mental health issues, and that he told her during a telephone call that he was considering resigning as an MP in September.

O’Mara is accused of making four fraudulent four claims to Ipsa between June and August 2019 from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism SY, and submitting two invoices from his “chief of staff” Gareth Arnold for media and PR work that prosecutors say was never carried out.

Jared O’Mara court case
Gareth Arnold (Danny Lawson/PA)

It is also claimed O’Mara, who appeared in court by videolink, submitted a false contract of employment for his friend John Woodliff, “pretending” that Woodliff worked for him as a constituency support officer.

O’Mara is charged with eight counts of fraud by false representation, with Arnold jointly charged with six of the offences, and Woodliff jointly charged with one.

O’Mara won Sheffield Hallam for Labour from former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg in 2017, but later left the party after a series of controversies.

He stayed in office as an independent MP but did not contest the 2019 general election.

O’Mara, of Walker Close, Sheffield; Arnold, of School Lane, Dronfield, Derbyshire; and Woodliff, of Hesley Road, Shiregreen, Sheffield, deny all charges.

The trial continues.