Jared O’Mara, the former MP on trial for submitting fraudulent expenses, tried to falsely claim thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money through the parliament disability budget, a court has heard.
O’Mara, who served as MP for Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, is facing eight counts of fraud totalling £30,000 and is accused of submitting fabricated invoices from a fictional autism organisation.
Georgia Wilson, the director of MP services at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), told Leeds crown court how suspicions were raised when the invoices for consultancy and training from an organisation called Confident About Autism SY were “amateurish” and missing key details.
The invoices, submitted in June 2019, were “inconsistent”, with different fonts and formatting, she said. They were also coming in “ad hoc”, submitted for budgets that were already used up and did not follow the basic procedures of Ipsa, the standards body set up to scrutinise MPs’ claims in the wake of the expenses scandal.
Ipsa normally asks MPs for evidence that any training or consultancy being invoiced for is an appropriate expense, which might include evidencing training course materials. But O’Mara was unable to provide any supporting evidence to go with the claims, Wilson told the court.
Some of the claims were being made from the disability budget, which is a separate pot of money specifically to help MPs with disabilities make reasonable adjustments to help them carry out their work.
O’Mara was diagnosed with autism in 2018, which is recognised as a disability in cases where it has more than a minor impact on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
However, claims under the parliamentary disability budget need to be pre-approved by IPSA, which was not done, Wilson said.
When her colleague asked O’Mara who carried out the work, he said “John”, referring to John Woodliff, a friend, who is also charged with one count of fraud. But in June 2019, Woodliff was already employed as a staff member in O’Mara’s office, and therefore receiving an invoice from a staff member for separate work “would be very unusual”, she said.
These discrepancies and the dysfunctional manner with which O’Mara communicated with Ipsa led staff to think something “didn’t look right”, she said.
“I could see there was a growing dysfunction in his office,” she told the court, adding that almost all his staff had left in a short period of time and she knew O’Mara was unwell because, “he tweeted himself that he was having some sort of mental health crisis”.
This led Ipsa staff to do a “backward-looking audit” of all O’Mara’s past expense claims, though it found they had been submitted in the correct manner by an experienced member of staff who had since left.
O’Mara and his co-defendants, Woodliff and his former chief of staff Gareth Arnold, who is charged with six counts of fraud, deny the charges and are due to begin giving evidence in their defence later in the week.