Phone Hacking Trial: Brooks on legitimate Sun Stories and turning down MPs’ Expenses – Martin Hickman

Rebekah Brooks: Turning Down MPs expenses story ” pretty high error of judgement”, while Cabinet minister Charles Clarke responsible for another leak, she claims Scotland Yard told her!

Inforrm's Blog

sun-getccccty Day 60:  Stories for which the Sun paid a civil servant thousands of pounds could have come from a variety of legitimate sources rather than a public official, the paper’s former editor Rebekah Brooks said today.

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The Duck House: From MPs expenses to Whitehall farce

ImageThe MPs expenses scandal exposed by the Daily Telegraph nearly five years ago  did more to damage the reputation of Parliament than anything else in recent history. There were hardly any MPs who had not put in some dodgy  or dubious claim and the repercussions are still being felt today as an ex Labour minister starts a six month jail sentence.

This spirited production of The Duck House now running at London’s Vaudeville theatre captures the panic felt by MPs at the time but  turns the whole proceedings into a series of jokes and a Whitehall farce in the tradition of Brian Rix before he became Lord Rix and a great campaigner for the mentally handicapped.

 Ben Miller, as the greedy money grabbing turncoat Labour MP,Robert Houston, with thousands of dodgy expenses receipts heads a cast often caught with their trousers down.

His wife  Felicity,is played by Nancy Carroll, a woman who can’t wait for hubbie’s defection to the Tories and gives a wonderful performance showing how inadequate she would be as an Mp’s secretary even if he is claiming for her. While their son James Musgrave, gives a remarkably good performance of as a gangly student staring at his laptop for much of the performance repeating the word ” fuck” as he reads his latest threatening emails  from the hoods because he can’t meet his gambling debts

There is also a  very loyal  Russian cook, Ludmilla, played by Debbie Chazen, who ends up campaigning for UKIP after being exposed for being employed without a work permit. Life has imitated art tonight (Feb 8) when Mark Harper, the immigration minister, resigned after it was revealed that he was employing a cleaner who had no right to stay in the UK permanently.

Then there is the straight man – David Cameron’s go between – Sir Norman Cavendish, played by Simon Shepherd. He is the man who gets covered in manure  as he negotiates Robert Houston’s switch from New Labour to the Tories. He is also found to have a secret life meeting a modern Miss Whiplash who improbably is also the girlfriend of the MP’s son. This might need updating now- Westminster gossip has  it that it is some  young Tory government advisers who like to visit Madams at the moment.

Spiced with a few up to date jokes – including a risque reference to David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks,( hacking trial lawyers please note,) the show is more farce and political banter than a contribution to the current debate.

Don’t go if you expect to be enlightened about MPs expenses, though all the examples are based on fact. Do go if you want a rollicking, funny, evening and enjoy farce. The subject was MPs’ expenses but  they could put together a farce on anything.

The review on this blog follows free press tickets. The theatre staff are also very helpful to disabled people providing transport to get wheelchair bound people  down to the stalls. Unfortunately they do not have a disabled toilet but have made arrangements for people to use one at a theatre next door.





Maude’s Tory Madrassa: The House of the Rising Spads

Come into the garden,Maude. leafy outlook at Denny Garden - a tenant's perk

This is the second part of the Armchair Audit of Francis Maude -looking at his role as a landlord.

Not only can Mr Maude look forward to a platinum pension  from investment bankers, Morgan Stanley, (see previous blog) but he is  also making money as a  landlord in Kennington, south London by letting out rooms available only to young  ambitious Tories.

Just off the Kennington Road where he once lived lies Denny Crescent, a beautiful and leafy enclave in a somewhat grotty  area.

Here Mr Maude purchased  a home for £240,000 cash in 1999. The  three bedroomed property, one of a terrace, has more than doubled in value since then – a next door home was recently sold  for £485,000 – and boasts two special  features.

One is  a restricted covenant signed between Mr Maude and as the title-deed shows ” His Royal Highness Charles Philip Arthur George Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Rothesay,Earl of Chester, Carrick,Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland.”  Originally it was owned by the  Duchy of Cornwall which has imposed restrictions.

Mr Maude’s  terraced home  is Grade II listed. Lambeth Council’s description describes the  terrace as built in  “1913 by J D Coleridge for Duchy of Cornwall Estate. Crescent of 2-storey red brick cottages in Dutch style. Dark tiled roofs with dividing chimney walls and moulded wood eaves cornice. Returned crowstepped gables, with Roman cement coping, at ends and flanking centre. First floor brick band. Sash windows with glazing bars in moulded wood architraves. Half glazed doors in plain wood frames have low oblong fanlight. Handsome rainwater heads with Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto. ”

The second is membership for £125 a year and use of a private garden for his tenants, Denny Garden Ltd, opposite his home. You can find out all about this at


This property featured in the Daily Telegraph’s expenses scandal. It was the family’s London home – the electoral register shows Francis, Christina, and two of his daughters  Julia and Cecily, lived there until 2006.

Then Mr Maude  and his family swapped homes to a flat in nearby Imperial Court taking out a £345,000 mortgage and began claiming  substantial Parliamentary expenses on the flat. They charged the taxpayer £387.50 for moving the furniture from Denny Crescent there.

What the title deeds reveal is that Mr Maude also took out another mortgage with the HSBC Private Bank  on Denny Crescent raising another tranche of cash.

Mr Maude’s “tax efficiency” as they call it  is clever – at the time he claimed  interest on one mortgage from the taxpayer and offset new rental income from Tory activists in his old home  by loading all the mortgage  interest costs and repairs against the rental charge. That way he pays little tax.  And he has released hundreds of thousands of pounds of capital to spend himself. No wonder he is a highly paid former investment banker.

The property unlike next door – where the tenant pays Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall  £500 a month for the unfurnished house – is not registered as a  fair rent.


Westminster gossip  among Tory Spads ( the name for political advisers to ministers) has it that the only way you can get a convenient place to lay your head at the Maude address is to be vetted by his daughters. No chance if you are not a rising Tory activist, preferably a special adviser or wannabe MP. It also ensures no indiscretions to outsiders at the dinner table. Some wag described it as “Maude’s madrassa”.

True or not Mr Maude has had both  infamous and rising stars as his tenants.

Maude's most infamous tenant: James McGrath Pic courtesy: Daily Telegraph

 Chief among them is Australian James McGrath, a  40 something strategic adviser to Boris Johnson.

 He was exposed by journalist and campaigner Marc Wadsworth for suggesting that black immigrants who were unhappy with living in a London run by Boris Johnson should go home (See Guardian comment  is free Despite being close to Lynton Crosby( now masterminding Boris’s campaign again) he was forced to quit and he ended up going home to Australia where he is campaigns director for the Liberal Party. He has threatened to return.  In an interview with Shane Greer in Total Politics,(see ) he said: ” I might come back here, we’ll see what happens.

Shane: Who knows, maybe the Boris re-election?

James: “Maybe actually, that would be nice actually especially if Ken runs again. No worries.”

Shane: “Good to stick it to him?”

James: “Totally.”

Less controversial is Martha Varney, Maude’s tenant until 2010, but a rising star,in her late 20s / eraly 30s and now special adviser to  eccentric bin dumper Oliver Letwin, who works with Francis Maude, in the Cabinet Office.  She is paid between £40,000-£54,000 a year.

Even less well-known is Alistair Richardson, in his late 20s, another Tory wannabe who has written blogs for Platform10, urging in 2o08 that MPs  (now on £65,000) should be paid at least £100,000 a year.

There are also  people not on the public electoral register. So which rising Tory star will kip at Maude’s listed home next?