Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

No expenses charges for Labour peer Baroness Uddin

Baroness Uddin: 'I now wish to turn back to my professional life'

Labour peer Baroness Uddin will not face charges over her expenses, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

She had been accused of designating a rarely-used flat in Kent as her main home so she could claim an allowance for peers living outside London.

CPS chief Keir Starmer said rules which allow peers to visit their "main home" just once a month would have caused a "very real difficulty" for prosecutors.

The peer said: "I am relieved that this ordeal has finally come to an end."

She added: "I only wish to say thank you to everyone who has supported me through this very difficult time and I now wish to turn back to my professional life and my public duties and my family."

The House of Lords authorities will now resume their investigation into Baroness Uddin's case, which had been put on hold during the police inquiry.

'Critical'

Peers are not paid but they are entitled to claim a £174-a-night subsistence allowance if their "only or main residence" is outside London.

House of Lords records show Baroness Uddin claimed between £24,023 and £29,675 a year since the 2005-6 financial year.

The complaint against her was that she had claimed a flat in Maidstone was her "main home" when in fact she lived at a house in east London.

In any criminal proceedings, it would almost inevitably be necessary for the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that any peer in question had not even visited the address they deemed their 'only or main' residence once a month
Keir Starmer
Director of Public Prosecutions

Police had obtained evidence from neighbours of Baroness Uddin and from water, gas and electric companies supplying the flat in Maidstone.

But Director of Public Prosecutions Mr Starmer said the definition of a peer's "main home" in the Lords expenses scheme would always have been "critical to any possible criminal proceedings against Baroness Uddin".

But he said "only or main residence" had not been defined and last November the Clerk of Parliaments Michael Pownall had set a threshold that peers must visit their "main home" at least once a month.

'Realistic prospect'

Mr Starmer added: "In any criminal proceedings, it would almost inevitably be necessary for the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that any peer in question had not even visited the address they deemed their 'only or main' residence once a month."

"That presents a very real difficulty and we considered whether it would be open to the Crown Prosecution Service to advance a different definition of 'only or main residence' in any criminal proceedings.

"However, after careful consideration, we concluded that such a course would not be open to us."

Lords 'surprised'

He said it was his job to decide whether there was a "realistic prospect of conviction" resulting from the police evidence.

He added there was "insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the peer adding: "Baroness Uddin is entitled to be presumed innocent and that is the basis upon which I have approached the case."

But Mr Pownall took issue with Mr Starmer's reasoning, saying his ruling that a peer could visit their designated main home just once a month had been made for the purposes of his own internal inquiries, and "did not relate to potential breaches of the criminal law".

A spokesman for the House of Lords also said that the authorities were "surprised" that the definition of main residence was referred to so prominently by Mr Starmer.

Mr Starmer responded saying it was "absurd" to suggest the ruling was an internal matter as it had been published on Parliament's website.

Police have been investigating various MPs and peers over their expenses claims since the scandal broke last May.

On Thursday three MPs and one peer told Westminster Magistrates Court they would plead not guilty to charges of theft by false accounting.



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