CHARLES GRAHAM - Time for more tough justice

THE 18-month jail term handed down to former MP David Chaytor was the right sentence for the crime and shows the courts can get tough when they choose.

This toughness was of course in part exhibited because he was the first of possibly several politicians to face the judiciary over expenses fraud and the judge wanted to make an example of him and send out a message about this form of fiddling’s unacceptability.

Public anger over the whole expenses scandal all but demanded such a penalty. But most significantly this boiled down to a serious crime committed by someone in a position of great public trust and responsibility.

After all Chaytor, by many accounts an otherwise hard-working and principled parliamentarian, stole more than £20,000 from us the taxpayers.

And his fraud went way beyond many of the other claims that so caused such public outrage and yet were allowable under the old expenses system.

He wasn’t playing within dodgy rules or even bending them.

This was out and out deception which included claiming thousands for IT services that hadn’t been rendered and even drafting bogus invoices.

They reckon he will be out in five months, perhaps a chastened man, although if short prison terms are as ineffective as Justice Secretary Ken Clarke reckons, perhaps he won’t.

Maybe some people feel that Chaytor was harshly dealt with, thinking that if he hadn’t been the first to be dragged before the courts he would have been received more leniently.

That remains to be seen, with sitting Labour MP Eric Illsley awaiting sentence after admitting a £14,500 expenses fraud at Crown Court this week.

Forgive me for going off at a tangent, but what troubles me is that his sentence has served to highlight inconsistencies elsewhere in the court system.

Kieran Ward, for instance, is an 18-year-old crook who last week escaped a custodial sentence despite pleading guilty to no fewer than 100 burglaries in Gloucestershire.

One assumes that the value of the property taken in these dozens of raids far exceeds the amounts stolen by Chaytor.

And yet he was punished with a weedy conditional discharge (in other words “we might put you behind bars if you do it again”).

One should add that Ward is no stranger to the courts. Yet even allowing for his relatively tender years and that, unlike Chaytor, he doesn’t bear the same public responsibilities as an MP, this one-man crime wave must surely face tougher justice than this.