Phil Willis latest Lib Dem MP named by Telegraph

by Stephen Tall on May 20, 2009

We have a rather belated entrant into the pantheon of Lib Dem MPs accused by the Telegraph of having abused the expenses system: Harrogate and Knaresborough’s Phil Willis.

The full Telegraph story is here. Tracing the sequence from the newspaper’s (actually rather confusing) report, it appears Phil’s main residence is near Harrogate, and he bought a basement flat as his London base a decade ago (presumably when first elected). So far no story.

However, in April 2007, Phil bought the neighbouring basement flat for £215,000, and designated it as his second home, claiming some expenses for stamp duty, legal fees and refurbishment. His daughter is now the sole occupant in the previous flat. Both flats are registered jointly with his wife and daughter respectively – this was, Phil says, because he had suffered a stroke, and was concerned for his health.

The paper then comments, “This means public money has been spent on a flat now inhabited by the MP’s daughter, and on a property in which she has a joint interest. Rules state that members cannot claim for costs that benefit anyone other than themselves.” Here’s where the Telegraph slightly loses me, as this paragraph seems to imply that Phil spent public money on the former flat at a time when (they claim) only his daughter is living there – I can’t see the evidence for that in what the paper reports. As far as I can make out, Phil’s expenses claims on the original flat relate only to the period when it was registered as his second home for his use while he was in London.

Finally, the paper reports Phil’s response to the paper’s allegations:

Mr Willis on Tuesday night said his daughter had never been a “permanent resident” in the flat. … “At no time have I knowingly made claims that attempted to abuse the Additional Costs Allowance. I have publicly supported Nick Clegg’s campaign that any capital gain made as a direct result of taxpayers’ money should be returned to the fees office on sale of the property, which in my case, means for both flats 1 and 2.”

The Telegraph story has also been picked up the Daily Mail – who (quelle surprise) seem at least as fascinated by the fact that Phil’s daughter is an ex-model. The paper also cuts out Phil’s statement that any capital gains made on either flat will be returned to the taxpayer in accordance with Nick Clegg’s stated policy – I’m sure that’s just an accidental omission by a Mail sub-editor, rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead its readers.