A Conservative MP who was caught cheating on his Parliamentary expenses over a £700 set of photographs has been fined and ordered to do 50 hours of community service.
Christopher Davies, the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, blamed the offences on a “disastrous accounting episode” after he submitted bogus invoices for the landscape images of his constituency office.
The 51-year-old former auctioneer and estate agent created fake paperwork to try to split the bill over two Parliamentary expenses budgets, even though he was entitled to claim back the entire £700 bill, and was reported to the authorities by his own disgruntled office manager.
Davies’ barrister, Thomas Forster QC, today insisted this case was “a world away from the rampant dishonesty” of previous MP expenses scandals, but told Southwark crown court: “There is a very real likelihood his political career is in tatters and at an end.”
Prosecutor Philip Stott suggested Davies may have been “seeking to avoid any embarrassment by spending £700 on photographs which may have been considered to be a large sum”.
Sentencing the MP to 50 hours of community service and ordering him to pay a £1500 fine and £2500 in costs, Mr Justice Edis told him: “I accept buying photographs for £700 was a proper use of public money, but the public however are entitled to make up their own minds on that question on the basis of accurate information.”
He said expenses scandals have “reduced confidence in the country’s priceless democracy”, but accepted that Davies will pay a high price with the likely loss of his political career.
“It remains shocking that when confronted with a simple accounting problem, you thought the thing to do was to forge documents”, added the judge.
“That is an extraordinary thing for a person in your position, and with your background, to do.”
When facing an internal Conservative Party investigation, Davies claimed a senior MP had said he could “split” expenses – but he did not name the fellow Parliamentarian.
Davies, who was appointed Private Secretary to the Wales Office in January last year, was first elected to Parliament in 2015 and given budgets for setting up his constituency office and paying for ongoing administrative costs.
The newly-elected MP bought nine photographs for £700 from Creative Photography Wales to decorated his constituency office in Brecon, but found in early 2016 he only had £476.02 left in his “Start Up Costs” budget.
With more than £8,000 remaining in a second budget for ongoing “office costs”, Davies decided to create fake invoices to split the £700 cost of the photographs.
He successfully submitted a bogus invoice for £450 for the Start Up budget, labelling it for “furniture/pictures”, and drew up a second invoice for £250 to be taken from the office costs budget which he left for a staff member to submit.
“It was not open to Mr Davies to unilaterally split invoices between two budgets”, said Mr Stott.
He said Davies’ office manager realised the second invoice was a fake, and later reported him to party authorities after a falling out with the MP.
“He said he had been told in conversation with a more experienced MP that you could split expenses, and he attempted to do that”, added Mr Stott.
Mr Forster told the court: “He is the author of his own misfortune and it’s a whirlwind he alone has reaped.
“The reality is it’s a tragedy because he is a hard-working public servant.”
He insisted that Davies is apologetic and had not tried to “spend to the limit” of his Parliamentary budgets, adding: “It’s not a return to the bad old day.”
Davies pleaded guilty last month to a charge of providing false or misleading information for allowances claims in March 2016, and a second count of attempting to provide false or misleading information for an allowance claim in April 2016.
He has been prosecuted under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, introduced in response to the revelations of widespread abuse of the expenses system by MPs.
He now faces the prospect of constituents signing a recall petition and triggering a by-election in his seat.
Mr Justice Edis said a court clerk will report the outcome of the legal proceedings to the House of Commons.