THE disgraced politician Jim Devine was yesterday ordered to pay his former office manager £17,816 in damages after a judge ruled that he had defamed her.
Devine was successfully sued by Marion Kinley after the former Labour MP falsely claimed she was under police investigation and helped herself to money that she was not entitled to.
In a written judgment issued at the Court of Session yesterday, Lord Bannatyne found in Ms Kinley’s favour when he considered evidence produced at a hearing earlier this year.
Both Ms Kinley and Devine, 60, the former Livingston MP who was jailed for 16 months in 2011 for fraudulently claiming £8,365 in parliamentary expenses, represented themselves in court.
Lord Bannatyne rejected Devine’s evidence as “incredible”. In contrast, Ms Kinley’s evidence and that of another witness, Eilidh McDonald, who worked for a time as a parliamentary researcher, was found to be credible and reliable.
In court, Ms Kinley of Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, had maintained that the ex-Labour MP had made damaging statements about her to “cover up his own actions”.
The former office manager told the court in Edinburgh: “They were vindictive. They were just set out to cover up for himself with absolutely no regard for what effect it would have on me.”
Ms Kinley said it had been claimed she was being investigated by the police and Special Branch. She added: “He also stated I had helped myself to bonus money I was not entitled to. I had stolen significant sums of money while office manager and the reason I did this was because I had a serious gambling problem.”
Ms Kinley maintained that between June and October 2008 while she was off work the then MP told Ms McDonald that she was being investigated and claimed she had fraudulently claimed for phone bills and stolen money. Similar false allegations were said to have been made to others.
She also maintained that a letter sent to her by the politician that October contained similar allegations of falsifying claims, giving him false information about previous employment and faking the MP’s signature in relation to a letter from sheriff officers.
The court heard that Ms Kinley was off work for medical reasons. Her absence was triggered by a phone call by a woman posing as a reporter, Eileen Hurleyheigh, who claimed she was investigating MPs’ expenses and particularly Ms Kinley’s salary.
The individual posing as Ms Hurleyheigh was a Fiona Fox, who later gave a statement saying she deeply regretted being drawn into “this unpleasant saga”. Ms Fox said she had been duped and assured that “this kind of prank was part and parcel of the humour in his team”.
Lord Bannatyne said such behaviour supported Ms Kinley’s stance that there was a campaign by Devine to maliciously “put forward untruths”.
Ms Kinley was supposed to return to work that October. When Ms McDonald told the politician when his office manager was coming back, the court heard his response was: “No she f***ing won’t.”
The judge agreed that Ms Kinley had been defamed by the former MP and said: “I have had no difficulty in concluding that the defender [Devine], when he made these statements to the pursuer [Ms Kinley] and others, knew them to be false.”
Lord Bannatyne said: “It appears to me that these allegations are of a serious nature in that they allege criminal conduct and impugned the pursuer’s honesty. I am satisfied that the pursuer has suffered significant distress as a result of these allegations.”
Originally, Ms Kinley had raised an action suing Devine for £75,000 over the false allegations against her.
She also took the ex-MP to an employment tribunal and won an award of about £35,000 after a finding of constructive dismissal in 2010. She told the court that the House of Commons had paid her half the amount, but no money had been paid by the former MP.