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'Horrified' Hanningfield defends expenses claims

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A Tory peer accused of expenses fraud has said he believed he was entitled to the money because most other members of the House of Lords claimed the full amount available.

Lord Hanningfield told Chelmsford Crown Court he was “horrified” to find himself being prosecuted because of claim forms he spent just “a minute a month” filling out.

The former Lords opposition frontbencher and Essex CC leader is alleged to have fraudulently claimed parliamentary expenses for hotels in London between March 2006 and April 2009 when he did not in fact stay overnight in the capital.

Lord Hanningfield, 70, who denies six counts of false accounting, said he “quite honestly assumed” he could claim the maximum amount after learning that this was what 85% of peers did.

Asked by his defence counsel why he thought he was entitled to the full sum, he said: “The £30-40 a day that was then available on the daily allowance was very little.”

The peer, from West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, Essex, told the court he saw the money as a “living-out-of-London allowance” rather than overnight subsistence.

Lord Hanningfield said he spent “a minute a month” completing the Lords’ expenses claim form in exactly the same way each time, not even including rises in train fares.

“If I had known how important some people saw those forms, I would have done much more. I didn’t see it as self-certifying, I saw it as means of getting expenses,” he said.

“No-one ever told me those forms were so important. I am horrified to be where I am now because of those forms.”

He said he was told nothing about expenses when he was given an induction into the House of Lords for new peers and paid “very little attention” to the guidelines on the back of the claim forms.

Lord Hanningfield, who was ennobled in 1998 and served as a Tory shadow minister in areas including education and transport, said many other peers saw the House of Lords as a “club”.

He alleged that another peer who had their main home in London designated a cottage in Wales as their primary address and claimed the full allowances for overnight subsistence, although he did not name them.

The court heard that Lord Hanningfield, who is from a farming background, receives only the state pension and a small agricultural pension of £120 a month.

He would be entitled to a local government pension for his 40 years on Essex CC but “never got around to filling in the forms”, the jury of nine women and three men was told.

The peer said he paid off the mortgage on his modest bungalow 10 years ago but recently remortgaged it to help pay for his lawyers during the trial as he is not taking legal aid.

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