Anger as expenses cheat MP Jim Devine is freed from jail

THE release of expenses cheat MP Jim Devine after serving only a quarter of his sentence has been met with anger by campaigners.

Mr Devine, who was jailed for 16 months in March after being branded a liar by his trial judge, was released from Standford Hill Prison in Kent yesterday.

The former Labour MP for Livingston spent only four months behind bars for submitting false invoices totalling 8,385 between 2008 and 2009 – after the scandal over politicians' claims had already broken.

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It is understood that Devine, 58, was freed under the home detention curfew scheme, which allows prisoners who pose a low risk to be tagged and released early after serving at least a quarter of their sentence.

However, Emma Boon, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said releasing the former MP so soon sent out the wrong message.

She said: "For taxpayers who witnessed the whole expenses scandal play out in Westminster, the hope was that this sentence was really a sign and was sending a message that MPs were not above the law and he got a strong custodial sentence.

"So it's really disappointing now to see now that he'll be out and walking the streets in his constituency after serving just a quarter of his time.

"There's a serious risk of the sentence being seen as a hollow gesture and a danger of damaging the trust between taxpayers and parliament that is very fragile and in the very early stages of being rebuilt.

"It's quite unusual to only serve a quarter of a sentence. We know that people get let out for good behaviour, but this just looks like a former-MP being treated like a special case.

"Clearly he's not any danger to the public, and I'm sure that will have been taken into account, but that isn't the only reason we lock people up."

Ms Boon said she had been contacted by supporters of the organisation expressing their outrage at the decision to free Devine early.

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Devine is the third former MP jailed over the parliamentary expenses scandal to be released.

Eric Illsley and David Chaytor have already been tagged and released under the same scheme after serving part of their sentences.

Devine told his Southwark Crown Court trial that he was acting on advice given with a "nod and a wink" by a fellow MP in a House of Commons bar.

But his defence was rejected by the jury and the trial judge Mr Justice Saunders said he had been "lying in significant parts of the evidence he gave".

Devine "set about defrauding the public purse in a calculated and deliberate way", the judge said.

"Mr Devine made his false claims at a time when he well knew the damage that was being caused to parliament by the expenses scandal, but he carried on regardless."

He also tried to pin the blame on his former office manager, Marion Kinley, claiming she had paid herself more than 5,000 from his staffing allowance without his knowledge.

Devine will be on the home detention curfew scheme for the next four months before spending the last eight months of his sentence on probation.

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A Labour Party spokesman said: "Jim Devine was excluded from the Labour Party some time ago and is no longer a member."

Illsley, 56, who was jailed for 12 months in February for fiddling 14,500 in expenses, was released in May after three months behind bars.

He dishonestly obtained an average of 100 a week more than he was entitled to over a three-year period.

Chaytor spent four and a half months behind bars after admitting he fiddled his parliamentary expenses to falsely claim more than 22,000 of taxpayers' money.

Chaytor, 61, became the first former MP to be jailed since Tory peer Lord Archer when he was sentenced to 18 months in January. In March, the Court of Appeal rejected an attempt by the former lecturer and ex- Labour MP for Bury North to have his prison sentence reduced, ruling that his offences were "a grave breach of trust" that contributed to "serious damage" to parliament's reputation.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "A home detention curfew (HDC) is available to low-risk prisoners serving sentences of more than three months and less than four years, who are deemed appropriate for early release.

"To be placed on HDC, a prisoner must have served a quarter of their sentence and have spent a minimum of 30 days in prison.".

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