Former Labour MP jailed over expenses fraud loses appeal

A former Labour MP jailed for expenses fraud has lost a Court of Appeal bid to challenge his four-year prison sentence.

Jared O’Mara was found to have “abused his position” by trying to claim about £52,000 of taxpayers’ money for work that was never done and jobs that did not exist. The 41-year-old, who represented the constituency of Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, went on trial for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) between June and August 2019.

He was accused of making fraudulent expenses claims to fund an “extensive” cocaine habit, with Judge Tom Bayliss KC later saying at sentencing that it had been “cynical, deliberate and dishonest”. O’Mara sought permission to appeal his sentence, but his renewed application was rejected by the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday.

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Lord Justice Holroyde, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker and Mrs Justice Lambert, came to their decision after receiving written arguments, with no lawyers appearing in court. Reading out a ruling, Mrs Justice Lambert said the judges found the challenge raised “no arguable ground that the sentence was manifestly excessive”, adding that it was “wholly proportionate” to the offences committed.

She said judges had concluded “without hesitancy” that the appeal “is not meritorious,” she said. Leeds Crown Court previously heard that O’Mara made four claims for a total of £19,400 from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire.

A jury found he also submitted a false contract of employment for his friend John Woodliff, pretending he worked as a constituency support officer. O’Mara, a former nightclub manager, was cleared of two fraud charges over invoices from another friend, Gareth Arnold, for media work that prosecutors claimed was never carried out.

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But he was convicted of an offence of fraud after emailing Ipsa in February 2020, falsely claiming the police investigation into him had been completed and he was entitled to be paid the two invoices relating to Arnold, which totalled £4,650. Prosecutors said the total value of the fraud was about £52,000, including Mr Woodliff’s proposed salary of £28,000.

Arnold, who became O’Mara’s chief of staff in June 2019, was sentenced to 15 months suspended for two years after a jury found him guilty of three fraud charges, but cleared him of a further three. Mr Woodliff was cleared by the jury of having any role in the fraud.

Prosecutor James Bourne-Arton previously said the fraud was not a victimless crime and that it had an impact on other MPs “because it undermines public trust and confidence in them”. Mark Kelly KC, defending O’Mara, said he wanted to apologise to his constituents for failing to resign in October 2017, when controversial comments he made online before becoming an MP were revealed, and that he had felt “hounded by the media”.

He told Leeds Crown Court that O’Mara was “an inadequate individual to cope with the stresses and strains of public life” and “resorted to taking drugs, alcohol and distancing himself in many respects from those that were around him”. Mr Kelly said: “These circumstances were very difficult circumstances for him to cope with, with his particular disabilities.”

But Judge Bayliss said the apology was “entirely disingenuous”, while also finding that O’Mara’s autism did not reduce his culpability. O’Mara won Sheffield Hallam for Labour from former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg in 2017, but later left the party after a series of controversies. He stayed in office as an independent MP but did not contest the 2019 general election.

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