Expenses Cheat MP Complains From Jail

The former MP for Livingston who was jailed for claiming false expenses has written a letter of complaint from behind bars about the difficulties of getting a fair trial in the internet age.

Jim Devine, who was jailed for 16 months after being branded a liar by his trial judge, questioned whether jurors listened to the judge's warning not to research the case online.

He complained that his "public and private reputation was trashed on the internet'' and said several MPs were concerned "about the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial in the internet age''.

His letter, to the prisoners' newspaper Converse, comes after the first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court for using the internet was jailed for eight months in June.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other senior judges used the case of Joanne Fraill, 40, who admitted chatting with an acquitted defendant on Facebook, to warn jurors generally not to undermine the country's "precious jury system'' by discussing or researching their cases online.

58 year old Devine wrote: "Along with my parliamentary colleagues my public and private reputation was trashed on the internet.

At the start of my trial the judge told the jury not to trawl the internet looking for stories about myself - does anyone believe that every juror followed that instruction?

I know several senior MPs that are very concerned about the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial in the internet age.''

The former Labour MP for Livingston, who was sent to Belmarsh Prison in south east London before being transferred to the lower security Standford Hill Prison in Sheerness, Kent, also said he knew "at least 10 prisoners'' who thought "tabloid reporting'' had jeopardised their chances of a fair trial.

Devine's complaint also comes as the judiciary is considering responses to its consultation on the use of Twitter in court.

The dangers of members of the public sending Tweets may be amplified by their informal nature, as they "usually involve less measured remarks, which are presented in a manner which invites commentary and opinion from other users, and are posted in real time with no opportunity for review'', it said.

Lord Judge issued interim guidance in December, ruling that users would need the judge's permission first.

Devine submitted false invoices totalling £8,385 between 2008 and 2009 - after politicians' claims had already become "front page news''.

Bankrupt 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.''

Devine 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.