A Conservative MP ordered to carry out community service after he admitted faking two expenses invoices has been told he faces a fight to save his political career.
Christopher Davies, the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, was told the electorate will be left to “judge” whether he must now face a by-election after being convicted of submitting forged claims for £700 worth of landscape photographs to decorate his new office.
It means Davies is due to face a recall petition – which gives his constituents the chance to vote to trigger a by-election – once the court notifies Parliament of the conviction, setting in motion a process which can end in the MP having to re-contest his seat.
A Tory party spokesman said Davies had been “given a formal warning from the Chief Whip” following his conviction, and said it was “right that the people of Brecon and Radnorshire now get to have their say about whether they still support Mr Davies”.
Southwark Crown Court heard the 51-year-old, elected in 2015, was legally entitled to spend money on his office but that submitting false documents was illegal.
He was handed a £1,500 fine, told to pay £2,500 towards costs and ordered to carry out 50 hours’ community service when he was sentenced on Tuesday.
Speaking after sentencing, Davies vowed to continue as an MP – despite defence counsel Thomas Forster QC admitting his client’s political career was likely “in tatters”.
Sentencing, Mr Justice Edis said: “It is not for the courts to distinguish between good MPs and bad ones when sentencing them for crimes – that is a matter for their electorate to judge.
“The (Parliamentary Standards) Act provides that there will be a Recall process which may end your political career.
“That is a substantial consequence of your offending, but is part of the machinery created by the Act to attempt to rebuild and then preserve the trust of the public in its Parliament.”
The Recall process can result in MPs who are handed prison terms of less than a year being subject to a petition to oust them.
This triggers a by-election if at least 10 per cent of the electorate in that constituency sign it.
A recall petition involving Peterborough’s former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya is due to close next month after she was jailed for perverting the course of justice.
Davies currently holds a majority of more than 8,000 for a constituency seat in which just over 41,000 people voted in 2017.
Speaking outside court, Davies said: “I have accepted today’s ruling and want to take this opportunity to make an unreserved apology.
“I would like to reiterate that I made a mistake and at no point did I at any time try to make any financial gain.
“This has taken a very hard toll on my family, on my staff and on myself.
“I would now like to move on and continue my role of serving the people of Brecon and Radnorshire as their MP.”
The two charges related to the period when Davies was setting up his constituency office following the 2015 snap general election.
He had contacted a photographer in his constituency and bought nine images from him to decorate and display in his constituency office, using his own money to pay the £700 for them initially.
There were two budgets available to him, the Start Up Costs Budget – for office furniture and IT equipment – and the Office Costs Budget, both of which he could claim the full amount from.
But Philip Stott, prosecuting, revealed Davies found in February 2016 that only £476.02 was left in the Start Up Costs Budget, with £8,303.75 remaining in the other.
He then created two fake invoices, so the £700 cost could be split between the two budgets – £450 to the Start Up and £250 for the other.
The judge acknowledged the offending was “in quite a different category” to the expenses scandal which brought shame on Westminster a decade earlier, but said: “There was no error here. What you did was done quite deliberately and it must have taken some time to create your fake documents.
“MPs ask the public to place their trust in them and in an election that’s what happens.
“They become the guardians of the nation’s democracy and depend on the public holding them in high esteem.
“Any significant betrayal of that standard is serious and crosses the custody threshold.”
He added: “It seems shocking that when confronted with a simple accounting problem, you thought to forge documents.
“That is an extraordinary thing for a man with your position and your background to do.”
Defending, Mr Forster QC said his client was in a “privileged position” as an MP, but that his offending was a mistake rather than a “return to the bad old days” of “maxing out expenses accounts”.
He said: “There is a very real likelihood that his political career is in tatters.
“This is a tragically disastrous set of circumstances to which I accept he is the author.
“It is not a financial cost, it is a harm to the integrity of Parliament.”
Mr Forster added that his client underspent “across every single budget”.
Prosecuting, Mr Stott said it was accepted that Davies had not sought to profit financially from the action and that he was entitled to claim for the pictures.
However, he said Davies was not entitled to split the costs across two budgets, and said any claims had to be accompanied by genuine invoices.
Davies served as a councillor in Powys before he was elected as MP for Brecon and Radnorshire at the 2015 general election, beating incumbent Liberal Democrat Roger Williams with the seat’s largest majority since 1983.
The father of two school-age children served as parliamentary private secretary to the Wales Office from January to July 2018.
Before entering politics, he worked as a rural auctioneer, an estate agent and also managed a mixed veterinary practice in Hay-on-Wye.
Labour chairman Ian Lavery said: “It’s shocking that the Conservative Party has still failed to take action against Christopher Davies, over a month after he admitted stealing from the public purse.”