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.
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.
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“).
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.