MP David Chaytor has spoken publicly for the first time since he was charged with false accounting over his Parliamentary expenses.
In a full and frank disclosure to the Bury Times, the 60-year-old has vowed to contest the allegations and clear his name.
He said: “I will fight for my right to have a fair hearing. That is all I ask.”
He has told of the enormous strain of the past nine months since revelations surrounding his expenses claims were first made public. The Bury North MP has been summoned to appear at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Thursday, March 11 at 2pm, where he will face three offences of false accounting. He has since been suspended by the Labour Party, along with two other accused Labour MPs, Jim Devine and Elliot Morley.
Mr Chaytor says he welcomes the opportunity to go to court in a bid to clear his name. Controversially, he has defended moves by lawyers who are apparently attempting to invoke Parliamentary privilege as a central plank of his defence.
The MP has also issued a public apology to his constituents, friends and family in the wake of what he describes as the “expenses fiasco” while expressing disappointment at this week’s suspension by his own party.
Mr Chaytor told the Bury Times: “No one ever said politics was easy, but the last nine months has been a shattering experience for me. Carrying on with the job of representing my constituents while fighting for my reputation and dealing with people’s understandable anger and disappointment over my Parliamentary expenses has not been easy.
“After all these months of selective reporting and outlandish claims, I now look forward to explaining the details of my case to the authorities.
“Most of the detail of my case is sub judice and I cannot go into the detail publicly. All I can say is that my personal circumstances at the time were extremely complex and not something I can explain away in a soundbite.
“However, it’s not in my nature to roll over and die and I will fight for my right to have a fair hearing. That is all I ask. Throwing a few people to the wolves won’t solve the deeper problems of the Parliamentary expenses system.
“I am clear that, to the best of my belief, I have not received any payment in excess of that for which I was eligible. There has been no loss to the taxpayer as a result of any error of mine. In most of my years in Parliament the costs I have incurred have been greater, and in some years much greater, than the reimbursement I have received.
“I have not been asked to make any repayment either to the Parliamentary authorities or as a result of the Legg Inquiry. However, I have already made a voluntary repayment for the full amount in question in recognition of the error I made.”
Mr Chaytor has also addressed claims that he and fellow Labour MPs, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, will argue that the principle of Parliamentary privilege exempts them from prosecution.
He said: “During the last week, certain sections of the media have tried to whip up claims that the four people facing charges will claim immunity from prosecution. “MPs do not have a general immunity from prosecution, nor do we seek it. However, our lawyers have raised certain questions about inconsistencies in the way different MPs have been dealt with throughout this process.
“I and my colleagues are certainly not claiming special treatment because we are MPs. In fact, our point is exactly the opposite. We believe that we should have had the same right every other MP has had to state our case by first going through Parliament’s internal disciplinary process. This has always been the way that allegations against MPs have been dealt with.
“Certainly, it is generally agreed that the law on what is termed ‘Parliamentary privilege’ is very unclear. The Director of Public Prosecutions has said this should now be tested in court.”
Mr Chaytor is remorseful of the consequences that the whole expenses wrangle have generated. He told the Bury Times: “Let me say that I deeply regret the fact that I have been dragged into the expenses fiasco and want to apologise again to my constituents, my party, my friends and my family for the problems and embarrassment this has caused.
“Before becoming an MP, I worked in public services for over 25 years without ever being accused of any financial irregularity. I have been fighting elections for the Labour Party since 1980 without ever being remotely involved in any controversy.”
The MP has also expressed regret over action taken by Labour chiefs this week which effectively prohibits Mr Chaytor from attending any party meetings. He said: “Although I am deeply disappointed about being suspended from the Labour Whip, this is entirely understandable and the only course of action that the party could have taken once charges were laid.”
As his own 13-year Parliamentary career draws to a close pending a General Election which he will not be part of, it will be business as usual.
“During the last few weeks of this Parliament I will continue to work as hard as I can on behalf of my constituents. My office will be dealing with constituents’ enquiries and assisting with their problems, right through until the General Election is called.”
Finally, he endorsed the Labour Party’s choice of candidate to fight the Bury North seat later this year. Mr Chaytor said: “I also want to do everything possible to support my successor, Maryam Khan, in her election campaign. The people of Bury North have a historic opportunity to elect the town’s first woman MP at the next General Election and Parliament urgently needs more bright young women like Maryam. ”
* The maximum sentence under Section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 for false accounting is seven years in prison.