A Miller's Tale

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Contents

A TALE OF SKULDUGGERY AND OF COVER UP THAT CONFERS IMPUNITY ON THOSE WITHIN THE HIGHEST ECHELONS OF BRITISH SOCIETY

In a true democracy equality before the law is a sine qua non that must apply regardless of circumstances of birth, upbringing, education, friendship ties to whomsoever is in power, religion, ideology and point of view, sex, ethnicity, race, caste, disability, age, sexual orientation, wealth, status, state of mental health, etc. Because it must apply to all without exception, the extent to which it is or is not applied is a very good measure of the actual level of democracy in a country. In this regard, Britain is falling short!


Maria Miller.JPG


Geoffrey Chaucer's original "The Miller's Tale", written in the 14th century, is seen as a ribald parody that alludes to cheating, swindling, artifice, chicanery and embezzlement in the Church. Today, the story of Maria Miller's sharp practice and deception, intended to result in personal financial gain at the tax-payer's expense, is one of the more obvious examples of the totally unacceptable impunity that has come to protect the British elite from accounting for their skulduggery. In view of the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, "established beyond reasonable doubt" that Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to buy her property (a property, which it turned out, was not in fact her second home and, therefore, not eligible), and that a concerted effort has been made to cover up Miller's false claims, we call on her to be tried in open court.

A FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT

Albert Venn Dicey (February 4, 1835 – April 7, 1922) was a British jurist and constitutional law theorist whose "An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885)" is considered part of the British constitution. He argued for the impartiality of the courts and insisted that not even those in the highest positions of power were exempt from law.

The "Rule of Law" ensures that leaders, who were elected by the people and whom were given the power and authority by the people, always act in the best interest of those people. Dicey, however, warned that the law must be followed by all, as people in power often thought that they were “above the law.” Dicey argued that the inner tendency of all people in power is to satisfy their personal needs out of public resources. He thus insisted that “no person is above the law and it is law that rules all.” He said:

"[E]very official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen....................[Appointed government officials and politicians, alike]…and all subordinates, though carrying out the commands of their official superiors, are as responsible for any act which the law does not authorise as is any private and unofficial person" (Dicey [1885] 2006).

SUMMARY

In 2014, after investigating, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, concluded that, because the former Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, MP, had claimed that her rented, four-bedroom cottage in Basingstoke was her main home, Miller considered she was entitled, under parliamentary expenses rules, to £90,718 for mortgage interest and the upkeep on what she said was a "second" home in Wimbledon, south London.

However, Kathryn Hudson discovered that Miller's parents and children had been living in the five-bedroom Victorian house in Wimbledon the whole time, something which also gave the lie to Miller's claim that the house had been "unused for 19 weeks of the year".

Kathryn Hudson went on to assert that she had: "established beyond reasonable doubt that between June, 2005, and April, 2006, Mrs Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to buy her property," and then added several other damning conclusions. Betty Boothroyd, Commons Speaker between 1992 and 2000, accused Miller of "bringing Parliament into disrepute". Lord Tebbit, a member of the Conservative Party who served in the Cabinet from 1981 to 1987, referred to Miller as "arrogant and greedy".

The total amount Miller is deemed to have over claimed by is £44,000. Normally, this amounts to a very serious and prosecutable fraud; but not, it seems, for a parliamentarian, for the separate Parliamentary Standards Committee, despite being "aghast at the tone that Miller adopted with Hudson" and that Miller "came out with lawyers and guns blazing", simply ordered Miller to repay only £5,800 and to apologise for her attitude; something which she did with grudging brevity (see the Committee on Standards - Tenth Report - Maria Miller). This was despite the fact that the Parliamentary Standards Committee agreed with Kathryn Hudson that Miller should have "properly" declared the Wimbledon house as her main family home because she was spending most nights there.

To add insult to injury, Miller sold the large Wimbledon house for just under £1.5 million, making a profit of £1 million. It was in 1996 that she bought the house with her husband, a solicitor, for £234,000 with a 90 per cent mortgage, which she subsequently paid for by falsely claiming, as an MP, that it was her second home. It seems that Miller eventually stopped claiming expenses on her 'second home' in Wimbledon to avoid paying capital gains tax of 28% on its sale. Miller has refused to confirm whether she paid any capital gains tax after the property was sold in February, 2014. At the beginning of March, 2014, from the proceeds of the sale, Miller bought a sprawling £1.2 million, 16th-century, countryside home in Hamshire, complete with a main barn with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and a study; an annexe barn with another bedroom and living areas; a large cart shed and a range of outbuildings including a summer house; all set in private gardens totalling 1.6 acres.


Miller New Hampshire Home.JPG Spoils of "Greed and Arrogance"?


Subsequently and very suspiciously, the House of Commons authorities have destroyed all official records relating to MP's expenses prior to 2010. This new policy of disposing of records after three years was introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal, of which Maria Miller was part. To add to suspicions of a cover up, the London Metropolitan Police have refused to provide any information requested under the Freedom of Information Act about the failure to prosecute this fraud, claiming various specious exemptions to justify the non-disclosure.

COVER-UP

CALLS FOR POLICE INTERVENTION - Thomas Docherty, a Labour MP, called for Scotland Yard to intervene after the cross-party Parliamentary Standards Committee's final report sided with Miller - suggesting that even if the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards was strictly right about the rules, it was "inappropriate" to apply them. The Parliamentary Standards Committee ordered Miller to apologise, but overruled Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, by deciding Miller only needed to hand back £5,800 in over-claimed mortgage interest. Thomas Docherty wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to look at whether the commissioner's report raised any issues of potential criminal behaviour. Tony Gallagher, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, said that there was a "substantial" need for a police inquiry into Miller's case. "It seems to me," he said, "the need for a police inquiry is substantial, given Maria Miller's conduct." He added: "I am very surprised that there hasn't been more pressure for police to get involved. If you look at what the Commissioner said about her in the inquiry - 'incomplete documentation', 'fragmentary information', 'legalistic answers' and so forth - it seems to me she has gone out of her way to obstruct the Commissioner's process... If you were a benefits claimant or the subject of an HMRC tax inquiry, you would have to find all that paperwork pretty damn quickly and no amount of complaining that you haven't got it would wash." However, in 2012, rather oddly, the Metropolitan Police made the decision not to lay charges against Miller.

PARLIAMENTARY STANDARDS COMMITTEE HAS NO CLEAR GROUND RULES, NO DUE PROCESS AND NO TRANSPARENCY - Labour MP, John Mann, whose complaint triggered the investigation, said: "A self-regulating group of MPs has ignored and overruled the conclusions made by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. He insisted the only way of demonstrating Miller's case had been handled properly was to publish all minutes of the Parliamentary Standards Committee's deliberations. "The Committee on Standards is flawed," he said. "It has no clear ground rules, no due process, and no transparency. This leads to conflicting and contradictory decisions, as we have seen in the case of Maria Miller. Their watered-down decision gives the impression that some on the committee are acting in line with partisan politics as opposed to an independent and transparent committee."

THREATS AGAINST THE PRESS - Miller, who had consistently spoken out against self-regulation of the press, and Downing Street faced accusations that they tried to use the Leveson enquiry and the row over press regulation to suppress or influence press coverage of Miller's expenses through the making of threats.

RECORDS DESTROYED - The House of Commons authorities destroyed all official records relating to MP's expenses prior to 2010. This new policy of disposing of records after three years was introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal, of which Maria Miller was part (see: MPs' expenses scandal: the timeline.). Speciously, a House of Commons spokesman said that records of MPs' expenses claims were destroyed after three years in order to comply with data protection laws under the House's authorised records disposal practice (ARDP). Significantly, however, the pay, discipline and sickness records of Commons staff are kept until their 100th birthday and health and safety documents are kept for 40 years.

POLICE REFUSE INFORMATION ABOUT FAILURE TO CHARGE - In the spring of 2015, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) was asked for:

1. Its 2012 document in which the decision was made not to lay charges against Maria Miller MP.

2. Any documents laying out the MPS's reasons why Maria Miller was not to be charged.

3. Any letters or emails sent in response to people/organisations, like Thomas Docherty MP and John Mann MP, requesting that the Miller case be reopened by the MPS.

4. Any recorded information, such as emails, meeting minutes, research or reports, relating to MPS's engagement with the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner in connection with her investigation in the Miller case.

5. In the light of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner's investigation or any other circumstances, any documents providing details of any review by MPS of its 2012 decision not to lay charges against Miller.

5th May, 2015 - A Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, was issued. This stated that: "The manner in which investigations are conducted is usually kept in strict secrecy so that the tactics and lines of enquiry that are followed do not become public knowledge thereby rendering them useless." It went on: "The MPS is reliant upon these techniques to conduct its investigations and the public release of the modus operandi employed during an investigation could prejudice the ability of the MPS to conduct further, similar investigations. This in turn would prejudice the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension or prosecution of offenders." And: "The police have a duty to protect the integrity of tried and tested investigative techniques used now and for future investigations." It was, thus, decided by the MPS that the "considerations favouring non-disclosure of the requested information outweighs the considerations favouring disclosure." Section 40(2) and (3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, was also enlisted to avoid disclosure. This provides that public authorities are able to withhold information where its release would identify any living individual and breach the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998(DPA). The MPS averred that "the name/s and personal information of any individual/s identified in the requested information constitutes personal data which would, if released, be in breach of the rights provided by the DPA."

On the very same day an application was made for this decision to be reviewed on the grounds that "disclosure is strongly in the public interest, as it is vital for public respect of the law that decisions not to lay charges against public figures are seen to be fair and objective." It was proposed that if the MPS wished "to redact personal information, or details to protect the integrity of its tried and tested investigative techniques," this would be fine.

5th June, 2015 - The MPS, having completed its review, responded stating that with regard to any "disclosure of the requested information the review continues to uphold the exemptions engaged, namely section 30(1)(a)(i) - Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities and section 40(2)/(3)(a)(i) - Personal Information, Freedom of Information Act 2000."

There are increasing instances of alleged cover-ups in relation to the crimes of senior government officials, the latest (August, 2015) being in respect of Edward Heath, former prime minister (albeit, the evidence against him is scant), who is one of around 76 politicians (their identities, unlike Heath's, have not been disclosed) who have been or are still being investigated, by police forces across the country, for sexually abusing children. There is also an ongoing investigation into claims that three murders were carried out to cover up abuse by a paedophile ring made up of politicians and other high-profile individuals at locations across southern England. For that reason it is absolutely vital we have complete transparency in Miller's case.

CASE

Taken from an article by Holly Watt and Claire Newell in the Daily Telegraph, 10th December, 2012.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, claimed the cost of the mortgage and other expenses associated with the large detached property in Wimbledon, south London.

She said that the property has been her parents' home for "nearly two decades".

The Cabinet minister's arrangements would appear to be at odds with parliamentary rules. In 2009, Tony McNulty, the Labour Home Office minister, was severely reprimanded for letting his parents live in his taxpayer-funded second home.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards ruled that second homes must be "exclusively" for the use of MPs in fulfilling their parliamentary duties and that housing a politician's parents was "specifically prohibited" by the rules. During the period, Mrs Miller said her main home was a rented property in her Basingstoke constituency, which meant the taxpayer was liable for the second home in London.

Mrs Miller, a former advertising executive, and her husband, a partner in a City law firm, bought a double-fronted terrace house in an upmarket south London suburb (Wimbledon) in January 1996 for £234,000.

In December 1996, Mrs Miller's parents - John and June Lewis sold their home in Wales and official records show that they moved to the London property.

John Lewis, the minister's father, 73, said they had moved to the home to help Mrs Miller look after the children when she launched her unsuccessful attempt to become the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton.

"We moved in to help her, with everything. You can't become an MP and fight an unwinnable seat in Wolverhampton with two or three kids back here," he said. "We were sitting out in South Wales, twiddling our thumbs and it was a very good idea".

In 2005, Mrs Miller was finally elected to Parliament as the Conservative MP for Basingstoke, about 50 miles from her south London home.

At this point, she declared her London house as her second home for the purposes of parliamentary expenses Mrs Miller had a home loan called an offset mortgage, in which the value of repayments can vary significantly.

Between 2005 and 2006, Mrs Miller was claiming £1,439 a month in mortgage interest payments - covering the entire loan. Typical claims for utilities were about £125 a month, council tax was £150, In March 2006, she claimed £477 for "crockery".

By July 2007, her mortgage claims had increased to £1,519 a month

In January 2008, her mortgage increased by around £100,000 to £575,000, with interest payments of about £2,700 a month.

Parliamentary rules at the time limited claims to about £24,000 annually. Mrs Miller did not make claims covering the entire cost of her mortgage and received about £2,000 a month from the cost.

During the four years, Mrs Miller claimed £90,718 in expenses for the property - just £115 less than the maximum permitted amount for the period. She made her last claim for the property on April 27, 2009 — less than 10 days before [the Daily Telegraph] published the first in a series of articles about MPs' expense claims. Mrs Miller has since stopped claiming expenses for the property and, since 2011, declared it as her main home, which means she cannot claim expenses towards it.

The Daily Telegraph has established that between 2005 and 2009, Mrs Miller claimed her "main home" for the purposes of parliamentary expenses was a rented cottage in her constituency.

EVIDENCE AND REPORT

The evidence considered by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, during her enquiry into Miller's expenses claims can be found HERE. This reveals the extent to which Miller attempted to threaten, frustrate and even to repeatedly close down the long-running official enquiry conducted by Kathryn Hudson.

In her report the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found that Miller's financial arrangements were so "complex" that it was difficult to track the changes in her borrowing over the period, and made it clear that Miller bore "significant responsibility" for delays in the investigation. The mortgage on the five-bedroom terrace house was £420,000 when she was elected in 2005, but rose to just under £580,000 by 2009.

The Commissioner concluded that "on the balance of probabilities... Miller should have used her discretion to nominate her home in London as her main home between May 2005 and the end of March 2009, when the rules changed. If Mrs Miller had decided that her London home was her main home she would have been entitled to claim against the ACA in respect of the rent and other costs of the Basingstoke homes."

"The decision Mrs Miller made impacts upon the second issue. Throughout the period 2005-09 Members were not allowed to claim for 'Living costs for anyone other than yourself'. In addition, the Green Book for July 2006 included the following principle in paragraph 3.3.2: 'You must avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds ...'"

"She could not expect ...... the public purse, to contribute to the living costs of her parents, and this was specifically contrary to the rules in place at that time. Mrs Miller did not make any formal arrangements by which she could demonstrate transparently that she was not claiming for their costs. I accept that the practices in relation to Members' claims in 2005 fell short of what would be expected in 2014, but the lack of abatement resulted in the inappropriate use of public money."

"I have established beyond reasonable doubt that between June 2005 and April 2009 Mrs Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to purchase her property; that she further increased her mortgage without the knowledge or agreement of the House authorities in 2007; and that she then made continued claims for interest against the new amount, albeit offset by interest generated by another account."

"Once she was elected, it was Mrs Miller's responsibility as a Member making claims against the ACA to ensure that she was familiar with, and abiding by, the rules relating to Members' claims set out in the Green Books."

"I find it difficult to believe that Mrs Miller genuinely thought she was entitled to make the additional claim for her extended mortgage in 2007 without any consultation with the House authorities or agreement from them."

The Commissioner considered that the rules at the time meant Miller was only entitled to claim interest on the £215,000 mortgage with which she originally bought the property in 1996. As a result, Kathryn Hudson found Miller had received £44,000 too much over the four years and should repay the amount she had over-claimed by: "The total amount by which Mrs Miller has over-claimed in relation to her mortgage interest would be around £44,000, to which should be added a further £1,000 to take account of the reduction which she should have made to her claims for council tax to take account of her parents' presence in the home. Her apparent misuse of the allowances system continued for four years from May 2005 to the end of April 2009 and seems to have been brought to an end only by the expenses scandal of 2009-10 when she abruptly ceased to claim."

"These issues are very serious and continued over a number of years."

Since calls have been made to the Metropolitan Police to investigate Mrs. Miller's excessive expenses claims, OpenTrial has made a Freedom of Information Act request for information as to why an investigation was dropped. Both the Information Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police are using legal technicalities to steadfastly resist providing information which the Metropolitan Police has acknowledged it possesses. We have appealed.

UPDATE:

During a tribunal hearing in March, 2016, to decide whether or not to release information about the police investigation into Maria Miller’s conduct (an investigation which the panel agreed could not now be denied) under the Freedom of Information Act, Judge David Farrer, Q.C., clearly indicated the information being withheld (which the panel had seen) was not favourable to Maria Miller as “there would be no objection to its release” if it were exonerating.

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