Former Labour MP Jared O’Mara has been jailed for four years for making fraudulent expenses claims to fund an “extensive” cocaine habit while in office.
O’Mara, who represented Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, was on trial at Leeds Crown Court for submitting “dishonest” invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
The 41-year-old was convicted of trying to claim up to tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money to fund an “extravagant lifestyle – drink, cigarettes and, above all, cocaine”.
Prosecutors said the total value of the fraud was about £52,000.
Judge Tom Bayliss KC said O’Mara “abused [his] position as a member of parliament to commit these multiple frauds”.
He said that while O’Mara was “without doubt suffering from autism”, this did not reduce his culpability, nor his ability to work as an MP.
“You knew perfectly what you were doing with this fraud, you were behaving perfectly rationally, if dishonestly, and you were using your autism diagnosis to extract money from Ipsa to fund your cocaine and alcohol-driven lifestyle,” he said.
“It was deliberate, it was cynical and it was dishonest.”
He said O’Mara’s apology to his constituents for not resigning in 2017 was “entirely disingenuous” and he had “shown not the slightest degree of remorse in respect of that”.
“You must have realised early on that you were wholly unsuited to the role [of MP], but you carried on regardless, you brazened it out, drawing a salary but doing little or no parliamentary work,” he said.
Leeds Crown Court was told he made four claims for a total of £19,400 from a “fictitious” organisation – Confident About Autism South Yorkshire – which jurors were told referred to his friend John Woodliff.
O’Mara was also found to have submitted a false contract of employment for Woodliff, pretending he worked as a constituency support officer.
Woodliff was cleared by the jury of having any role in the fraud.
‘An inadequate individual’
O’Mara claimed he was in “poor mental health” at the time and was abusing cocaine, a class A drug, in “prodigious quantities”.
Mark Kelly KC, defending O’Mara, said he 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”.
Co-defendant Gareth Arnold was found guilty of three out of six fraud charges, and a third defendant, John Woodliff, was found not guilty of one offence of fraud.
Arnold, 30, was handed a suspended sentence.
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‘Not a victimless crime’
Prosecutor James Bourne-Arton 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”.
The disgraced MP 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.