I didn't have an affair with my secretary, expenses MP tells court

A FORMER MP accused of fiddling his expenses yesterday denied having an affair with an office manager he claimed paid herself more than £5,000 from his staffing allowance without his knowledge.

Jim Devine, 57, who held a seat in the Commons for Livingston, is on trial at Southwark Crown Court for falsely claiming almost 9,000 from the public purse.

The former Labour backbencher said Marion Kinley, whom he took on in March 2006 as his office manager, was authorised to speak to the fees office on his behalf.

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Devine told the court while giving evidence he started to receive inquiries from journalists with questions regarding his expenses, so he investigated with the fees office.

He gave an example of one the questions he was asked. "Why did I have the best-paid office manager in the House of Commons?" he said.

He added: "They seemed to have specific information about claims I had been making."

The former MP said he paid Ms Kinley a salary of 35,000 as his office manager, based in his Livingston constituency.

Devine said he became concerned somebody was leaking information about his expenses, so he contacted the fees office to tell them he wanted to take control of his claims, and even requested a password be put on his account.

The former MP said he uncovered Ms Kinley paid herself 1,000 in overtime, and 4,300 as a bonus.

He said the bonus payment was made in September 2007, but they were supposed to be paid at the end of the financial year - in March.

Devine said he had authorised her to call the fees office, and he said: "She would speak to the fees office if there was a problem."

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He described events after he made his investigations: "She realised I had been in the fees office. She went home at about 11 o'clock that morning.

"She claimed sickness and went off work for about six months."

Devine said he continued to pay Ms Kinley's salary while she was off sick.

He said eventually a letter was drafted by Terry Bird, the former director of operations of resources at the House of Commons, to suspend her. Ms Kinley left in March 2008.

Earlier, defence lawyer Gavin Millar asked Devine if he had had an affair with Ms Kinley.The barrister said: "Were you having a relationship?"

Devine said: "No."

He explained they were friends and she had been his guest at his son's wedding.

Mr Millar asked: "You weren't having an affair?"

The defendant responded: "No, no."

Devine is on trial facing two charges of false accounting.

The first count alleges that, between July 2008 and May 2009, Devine dishonestly claimed 3,240 for cleaning services from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services.

The second count alleges that between March 2009 and April 2009, Devine dishonestly claimed 5,505 for stationery from Armstrong Printing using false invoices.

Devine, of, Bathgate, West Lothian, denies both charges.

The trial is due to resume today.