The former Labour MP Jared O’Mara has been found guilty of making fraudulent expense claims to fund a “galloping” cocaine habit.
O’Mara, 41, was an MP between 2017 and 2019 and was on trial at Leeds crown court for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) to help fund his addiction, the prosecution argued. He was convicted on Wednesday of six counts of fraud by false representation. The jury cleared him of two other fraud charges.
His 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.
O’Mara and Arnold will be sentenced at the same court on Thursday. O’Mara, who declined to give evidence, has attended court via a video link from his home in Sheffield but was told by judge Tom Bayliss KC that he would no longer be afforded that “indulgence”.
The former MP had been accused of making false expense claims and employing a friend in a fictitious job. He was, prosecutors said, in “dire need” of cash to fund his spiralling spending on drugs, vodka and cigarettes.
O’Mara was elected MP for Sheffield Hallam in 2017, unexpectedly defeating the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Soon afterwards he was suspended by Labour after a series of homophobic and sexist posts he made as a younger man emerged. O’Mara refused to rejoin the party and served as an independent MP until 2019.
His election had initially been welcomed. O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy, was for parliament someone different in that he was disabled and working class. In 2018 O’Mara was diagnosed with autism making him, he said, the UK’s first autistic MP.
But the prosecution described O’Mara as a “dishonest” and “rotten” MP who was living beyond his means.
The prosecuting barrister, Richard Wright KC, said O’Mara came up with “a series of scams” to get money out of Ipsa.
The former MP was, the court heard, taking up to five grams of cocaine a day as well as consuming a litre bottle of vodka and 60 cigarettes on a daily or almost daily basis.
The court heard that O’Mara had a “dysfunctional” office, which was “haemorrhaging staff” at the time he made the claims.
The whistle was blown by Arnold, who first met O’Mara in a Sheffield pub, the pair bonding over their mutual interest in music and politics. In 2019 he became the MP’s chief of staff and in July he rang police to alert them to expenses fraud.
The jury was played the phone call he made in which he accused O’Mara of submitting fake expenses.
He told the call handler: “It’s a bit of a tricky one but yesterday I spoke to the 999 service and the mental health crisis team about my employer, who I believe is suffering a severe psychotic episode and has delusions of a conspiracy against him.
“I also believe he has been submitting fake expense claims to the government very recently.”
Wright said Arnold only made the call because Ipsa was saying it would not pay the claims. “Alarms are being raised – that’s when he chooses to go to the police.”
O’Mara and Arnold were found guilty of six counts of expenses fraud, submitting invoices totalling £19,400 for a bogus company called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire. The company’s postcode was, the court heard, a McDonald’s on Penistone Road in Sheffield.
The former MP was also convicted of an offence of fraud after emailing Ipsa in February 2020, falsely claiming the police investigation into him had been completed and that he was entitled to be paid two invoices relating to Arnold, which totalled £4,650. The jury found Arnold not guilty of the same charge.
Not guilty verdicts were given on charges that O’Mara and Arnold submitted fraudulent expense claims for media training given to the MP by Arnold, a freelance media and marketing consultant.
O’Mara was also found guilty of fraudulently claiming that Woodliff was employed as a constituency support on a salary of £28,000.
Woodliff, a former bouncer and milkman who was a friend of O’Mara, was found not guilty of the same charge.
South Yorkshire police said the total value of the fraud was more than £52,000. DC Kathryn Hughes, an investigating officer, said: “O’Mara was in a position of immense responsibility and trust as a member of parliament and for him to behave in such a way with public money is inexcusable.”
Ian Todd, the chief executive of Ipsa, said: “We note today’s verdicts and want to thank the Ipsa staff whose diligence meant that the irregularities were spotted and no money was ever paid in connection to the invoice submissions.”
During the trial the prosecution said Woodliff’s work was little more than clearing up O’Mara’s pizza boxes and helping the MP dress.
Ipsa, a parliamentary body set up after the MPs’ expenses scandal, refused to pay the invoices for Confident About South Yorkshire or the media training.
O’Mara was accused of seeing Ipsa as a source of income that was his to claim and use as he wished.
His barrister, Mark Kelly KC, called no evidence and said in his summing up that O’Mara was someone who found the job of MP difficult because of his disability. He was not dishonest but administratively incompetent, he said.
Nick Price, head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said O’Mara’s actions “fell a long way short of the conduct expected of MPs and, quite frankly, taxpayers have the right to expect better”.