Jury retires to consider verdicts in trial of former MP accused of fraud
A jury has retired to consider its verdicts in the trial of a former MP accused of making fraudulent expense claims to fund a cocaine habit.
Jared O’Mara, 41, who represented the constituency of Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, allegedly submitted fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) to make money for himself and two of his friends.
Judge Tom Bayliss KC finished summing up the evidence to jurors at Leeds Crown Court on Tuesday morning before they retired to start their deliberations.
The judge said the prosecution’s case is that O’Mara tried to fraudulently claim up to £30,000 in taxpayers’ money to fund an “extravagant lifestyle – drink, cigarettes and, above all, cocaine”.
O’Mara is accused of making four bogus claims to Ipsa between June and August 2019 from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire, which jurors heard referred to his friend John Woodliff, and submitting two invoices from another friend, Gareth Arnold, for media and PR work that prosecutors say was never carried out.
It is also claimed that O’Mara submitted a false contract of employment for Woodliff, “pretending” he worked 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.
Arnold – the only one of the three defendants to give evidence during the trial – told the court he “absolutely” did the work on both invoices relating to him, and that O’Mara would regularly call him for “ad hoc” help with media work before putting him on the payroll as chief of staff in June 2019.
Leeds Crown Court was told Ipsa – the organisation set up after the expenses scandal to regulate MPs’ staffing and business costs – did not pay out any of the claims due to a lack of evidence that any of the work was done.
Jurors were told O’Mara had a “dysfunctional” office and sacked most of his staff “overnight” in around April 2019.
A former case worker, Kevin Gregory-Coyne, said O’Mara went to his constituency office “once or twice” in six months and once attended a staff meeting while apparently “on some sort of substance”.
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.