Christine Hewitt : MEP’s Chief of Staff sentenced for expenses fraud

Christine Hewitt : MEP’s Chief of Staff sentenced for expenses fraud

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Photo from the BBC

Introduction 

Brexit means Brexit, so we are told, with just a few minor details to work out.

One UKIP activist, Christine Hewitt – the Chief of Staff for Janice Atkinson MEP for the South East Region, decided to hasten at least her own exit from Europe by engaging in that most British of political activities – diddling her expenses.

On 7th September 2016 she paid the price for this when she received a 4 month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months on the condition that she undertake 40 hours unpaid work in the Community.

 

Facts

Ms Hewitt organised a lunch at the Hoy restaurant in Margate for 90 guests during the UKIP Spring Conference in 2015.

This was a lavish affair, as would be expected from one of the country’s leading political parties. The total bill came to somewhere in the region of £900.

For reasons unknown, Ms Hewitt decided to inflate the bill a bit. When she came back the next day, the staff member (actually now a journalist from the Sun going undercover) asked if £3,150 was enough.

This was enough. The tab was being picked up by the Initiative for Direct Democracy, which is funded by the European Parliament. As Ms Hewitt explained,  “The idea is we overcharge them slightly because that’s the way of repatriating (the money)“.

The left an excess in the sum of around £2,250.

Ms Hewitt was charged with fraud, which she denied, but changed her plea when she was due to stand trial at Canterbury Crown Court on 6th September 2016.

She was sentenced the next day.

 

Sentence

There are guidelines for fraud – see page 7, although as we found out with the expenses scandal, different rules apply for politicians (before you worry – they get longer than the average person – as was said “The reality is that when this guideline was produced, it never occurred to anyone that a Member of Parliament might set about defrauding the public purse in the calculated and deliberate way taken by the appellant“).

We looked at this when we looked at the case of Denis McShane. The leading case on sentencing naughty MPs is David Chaytor.

Ms Hewitt is in a different category of course, not being an MEP, but there is still a higher than normal level of trust, which is why a custodial sentence was presumably felt necessary in this case.

Having said that, she was a woman of good character, who’s reputation would have been shredded by this. In light of that, the decision to suspend the sentence seems a humane and sensible one.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The suspended sentence seems middling for diddling a fairly piddling amount. Unfortunately fiddling is riddling politics nowadays.

  2. Hey Dan,
    Thanks for an interesting article on this subject. From what I can gather it seems that Christine Hewitt never benefitted from this fraud but facilitated it so that the restaurant could benefit.

    Did the restaurant owners or staff have their day in court I wonder? After all they were the beneficiaries, weren’t they…

    • The thrust of the Sun article is that she paid the original amount by credit card (see credit card receipt pictured in the article) but then requested an inflated invoice. So, on the contrary, it seems that the inflated reimbursement must then have been payable to her (or UKIP), and it is unclear whether the restaurant would have benefited.

      This is not to say that the restaurant couldn’t potentially have deserved a day in court themselves for assisting the crime. However, I am guessing that when they issued the falsified receipt (when she returned for it the next day), they did so with the intention that it would be of no use for fraudulent purposes because they had warned, or were intending to warn, the Initiative for Direct Democracy (whom Hewitt intended to defraud). Bear in mind that by this stage they had already tipped off The Sun, and it was the Sun reporter posing as a staff member who issued the invoice.

      I am now interested to know whether, if my speculation about this is correct, warning the Initiative for Direct Democracy would be enough to put the Sun reporter legally in the clear. I am looking here (as a layman) at section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 and part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which I take to be the relevant basic and inchoate offences respectively. The basic offence of fraud seems to be one requiring proof of fault rather than proof of circumstances or consequences, so according to SCA2007 s.47(5) it is necessary only for the Sun to have believed that any claim by Hewitt would have been with intent to gain dishonestly, and it is immaterial whether they believed that she would have succeeded. But I guess the “acting reasonably” defence in s.50 could be of use to them. I would be interested in any response from the blog author or anyone else working in the field.

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