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No action over Colchester MP’s expenses mistake
COLCHESTER MP Sir Bob Russell will not face action, even though a Parliamentary inquiry found he breached expenses rules for six years.
The Lib Dem MP admitted unwittingly breaching rules by holding shares in a company which owned Magdalen Hall, which was sub-let for his constituency office.
Investigator John Lyon said as a result, expenses claims made between April 2003 and March 2009 were in breach of the rules.
But MPs on the House of Commons committee on standards and privileges ruled Sir Bob, along with his sister-in-law who also had shares, had made no financial gain.
The report stated: “The member has accepted he breached the rules, albeit not deliberately or knowingly, and has apologised.
“We have recorded the breach of the rules. We do not recommend any further action.”
He said: “The commissioner had no choice, but to investigate, because it was a very serious allegation.”
But he claimed the ruling effectively cleared him of wrongdoing, adding: “It is the equivalent of somebody who has been charged with drink-driving being convicted of parking on a double yellow line.”
However Mr Ellis, 23, said Sir Bob was not vindicated because the expenses claims were shown to be in breach of the rules.
He said: “We can obviously debate whether the committee should have gone further, but the underlying message is Sir Bob did breach the rules.”
The complaint, submitted in November 2011, claimed Sir Bob broke the rule prohibiting the renting of constituency offices from organisations in which MPs have an interest. The rule was in place between April 2003 and March 2009.
Attached to the complaint was a Gazette article, published in June 2010, which revealed Sir Bob had claimed £780 expenses a month to rent an office from a company he held shares in. The money went to Magdalen Hall Company Limited, formed in 2002 by Colchester’s Lib Dems to buy the former church in Wimpole Road.
Party members made donations to buy the hall and were given shares in return.
The building is leased by Colchester Lib Dems, which use half and sub-let the other half to Sir Bob.
As Sir Bob had donated the most – £25,000 – he became the leading shareholder.
He remained so until the summer of 2010, when he donated the shares to Colchester Lib Dems.
The Lib Dem showed the investigation written proof he had never taken a dividend on the shares. It also found Sir Bob had claimed a “fair market rent” for his half of the building.
The investigation was hampered by the lack of records kept by the Fees Office about discussions it had with Sir Bob when the property was purchased.