In Depth

A history of MPs who were investigated by the police

From Jeremy Thorpe to Keith Vaz, The Week takes a look at MPs who have faced police scrutiny

The Metropolitan Police is considering an investigation into the alleged “BYOB” party that took place at No. 10 during the first lockdown, it has emerged.

According to an email leaked to ITV, more than 100 Downing Street staff were invited to the event by Boris Johnson’s principal secretary, Martin Reynolds. The PM admitted to attending the garden party during Prime Minister’s Questions today, claiming that he believed it was a work event.

A Met Police spokesperson said the force is “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street”, adding that it is currently “in contact with the Cabinet Office”. 

If Johnson is found to have breached the law by attending the outdoor gathering, he will join a list of MPs to have found themselves under police investigation. Here is a rundown of some of the other politicians who found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

1

Jabez Spencer Balfour

A Liberal MP for Tamworth from 1880 to 1885 and Burnley from 1889 to 1893, Balfour was perhaps the most infamous fraudster politician of his era.

A “late Victorian financial and property tycoon” he “amassed a fortune by exploiting the religious devotion and the temperance crusades of that era,” said HistoryToday. 

In 1892 he was at the centre of a scandal when the Liberator Building Society, which he set up and controlled, failed, leaving thousands of small investors penniless. He fled to Argentina, but was extradited before being tried and imprisoned for 14 years. 

2

Jeremy Thorpe

John Jeremy Thorpe served as a member of parliament for North Devon from 1959 to 1979 and was the leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. “Dashing” and “charismatic”, he was perhaps Britain’s “most popular politician” in the early 1970s, The Sun said. 

In 1979, he found himself at the centre of “the trial of the century” when he was accused of conspiring to murder his former gay lover, Norman Scott, in what the BBC described as a “bizarre, ill-fated plot”.

Thorpe was acquitted, but the trial ended his once-glittering parliamentary career. “Lurid speculation about what really happened and why dogged him for the rest of his life,” said The Guardian in 2018. 

3

Jeffrey Archer

The millionaire author and former Conservative politician was accused by the News of The World in 1986 of paying a prostitute £2,000.

Then deputy chair of the Conservative Party, having been appointed by Margaret Thatcher in 1985, he resigned from his post soon after the story broke. 

In 2001 Archer was sentenced to an additional four years in prison after being found guilty of lying during a 1987 libel case he brought against the Daily Star after allegations he paid a prostitute for sex. Archer was found guilty on two counts of perverting the course of justice, and two counts of perjury.

Before his sentencing, the judge presiding over the case said the “charges represent as serious an offence of perjury as I have had experience of and have been able to find in the books”, reported the BBC at the time.

4

Jonathan Aitken

The Conservative MP “dramatically resigned from his post” in 1995 after The Guardian and Granada TV’s World in Action revealed that “a Saudi businessman had paid for a stay at the Paris Ritz hotel – in breach of ministerial rules,” reported the BBC at the time.

Aitken launched a failed libel action against The Guardian and Granada, claiming he had quit his ministerial post to fight what he said was “the cancer of bent and twisted journalism”. 

But the case collapsed and Aitken admitted lying during the libel case. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice and was jailed for 18 months, seven of which he served as a custodial sentence. 

5

The expenses scandal

The 2009 expenses scandal eventually saw five MPs and two peers jailed as a result of police investigation into false expenses claims.

As Channel 4 reported, the jailing of so many MPs led to the “startling statistic" that in 2011, while “0.13 per cent of the general population was in jail, a shocking 0.61 per cent of House of Commons members were in prison”.

Ex-Labour MP David Chaytor was jailed for 18 months for fraudulently claiming more than £18,000, Labour’s Jim Devine was jailed for 16 months for claiming more than £8,000 and former Labour environment minister Elliot Morley was jailed for claiming £31,000. 

Eric Illsley, also formerly of the Labour Party, was sentenced to 12 months for falsely claiming  £14,000, while former Labour minister Denis MacShane was jailed for six months after falsely claiming  £12,900.

Conservative peer John Taylor was sentenced to 12 months after claiming more than £11,000, while Paul White was given a nine-month sentence, returning to the House of Lords after being acquitted and repaying the £3,300 he wrongly claimed. 

6

Keith Vaz

In 2016, Labour MP Keith Vaz came under police investigation over charges he “offered to buy cocaine for two male escorts”, reported The Guardian.

The Metropolitan Police opened its investigation into whether Vaz had broken any drug laws after it received a complaint from Tory MP Andrew Bridgen. The investigation was eventually closed and Vaz did not face charges.

7

Fiona Onasanya

In 2019, Labour MP Fiona Onasanya was sentenced to three months in prison after it was found she had lied to police in relation to a speeding ticket.

She had been expelled from the Labour Party after being convicted of perverting the course of justice in 2018.

However, she remained an MP until her conviction, earning her the dubious honour of becoming “the first sitting member of parliament in nearly three decades to be jailed”, reported the BBC.

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