Pressure on Maria Miller growing

Somerset County Gazette: Maria Miller was ordered to apologise and repay £5,800 in overclaimed mortgage interest Maria Miller was ordered to apologise and repay £5,800 in overclaimed mortgage interest

Pressure on Maria Miller was stepped up as the Daily Telegraph released an audio tape of a phone call between an aide to the Culture Secretary and a reporter investigating her expenses claims.

The tape revealed that Mrs Miller's special adviser Jo Hindley "flagged up" the fact that the Cabinet minister would be meeting the paper's then editor about the Leveson report into press standards - something which then editor Tony Gallagher interpreted as a threat.

Meanwhile, details of letters sent by Mrs Miller to the parliamentary commissioner investigating her expenses claims led to allegations that the MP may have bullied the watchdog during the lengthy inquiry.

Commissioner Kathryn Hudson recommended that Mrs Miller should repay £45,000 in expenses for a house which she shared with her parents, but the cross-party House of Commons Standards Committee overruled the watchdog and decided she only needed to hand back £5,800 in overclaimed mortgage interest.

Mrs Miller, who made a 32-second apology to the Commons earlier this week, has won the "warm support" of Prime Minister David Cameron.

But Labour MPs have urged police to examine Mrs Miller's expenses and demanded the publication of the full minutes of the committee's meetings to discuss the case behind closed doors.

The 10-member committee attempted to defuse criticism of its actions by releasing a joint statement with Ms Hudson describing the situation as "complex" and stressing Mrs Miller had been rebuked for failing to co-operate with the investigation.

In the audio tape released by the Telegraph, Ms Hindley tells the reporter that another journalist who called at Mrs Miller's home had spoken to the MP's father, who had recently been in hospital. Some details were redacted from the recording to protect his privacy.

"I should just flag up as well, whilst you're on it, that when she doorstepped him, she got Maria's father, who's just had a [redacted] and come out of [redacted]," said Ms Hindley.

"Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I'm just going to flag up that connection for you to think about."

Explaining why he regarded the reference to Leveson as a veiled threat, Mr Gallagher, told BBC2's Newsnight: "Bear in mind this was a time of what I would call anti-press hysteria.

"The press was feeling very vulnerable just after the publication of the Leveson Report and there was a great desire on the part of all media organisations not to fall foul of somebody raising the spectre of Leveson.

"We were in no doubt that threats were being made. Joanna Hindley was not even attempting to be sophisitcated about it - she menaced the reporter openly... The reporter took that as a very clear threat."

But a Whitehall source said that it was clear from the recording, made without Ms Hindley's knowledge, that she had been voicing concerns about the doorstepping of Mrs Miller's father, who was ill, and had been making clear that the minister would raise the issue at an upcoming meeting with the editor, which happened to relate to the Leveson report.

The source said that Mrs Miller did in fact speak to Mr Gallagher about the treatment of her father, and received a written apology from him.

Mr Gallagher claimed that he later received a similar call from Downing Street director of communications Craig Oliver, adding: "When you get the Prime Minister's spokesman making a similar phone call to you a couple of days later, you add all three calls up and you can only conclude that they are trying to harass you and stop you from publishing the story."

But Mr Oliver told the BBC: "It is utterly false to suggest that I threatened Tony Gallagher over Leveson in any way. The conversation I had with him was about the inappropriate doorstepping of an old man."

Emails released by the Standards Committee showed how Mrs Miller tried to persuade Ms Hudson that her investigation into her expenses was "irrational, perverse and unreasonable" and suggested that she might go over the watchdog's head to ask the cross-party group of MPs to intervene.

In one email, Mrs Miller said: "It may be that I shall need to refer this to the supervisory jurisdiction of the standards committee but I hope this can be avoided."

In another, she wrote: "As should by now be obvious, a decision to uphold the complaint would be irrational, perverse and ... unreasonable - that is to say would be a decision that no reasonable decision maker could properly reach."

And in another message, she wrote: "In light of the evidence that is before you ... to continue to regard this spurious complaint as a serious matter would give it credence it does not deserve and undermine the inquiry process in comparison to issues that really are serious matters."

Mr Mann, the MP whose complaint sparked the Commissioner's investigation, said: "These emails show that Maria Miller bullied and threatened the independent Commissioner.

"This is a gross abuse of her position as a member of the Cabinet. This issue alone warrants her resignation or immediate dismissal."

Labour MP Tommy Docherty wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to look at whether the commissioner's report raised any issues of potential criminal behaviour.

Speaking on a visit to Devon, the Prime Minister said: " It was found she had made mistakes, she accepted that, repaid the money, she apologised unreservedly to the House of Commons so I think that we should leave it there."

The inquiry was launched in December 2012 following allegations that Mrs Miller used some £90,000 in expenses between 2005 and 2009 to fund a house where she lived with her parents.

In a joint statement released today, committee chairman Kevin Barron and Ms Hudson said: "As both the Commissioner's memorandum and the Committee's report make clear, this case dealt with complex matters relating to the rules as they were nearly a decade ago.

"Both the Commissioner's memorandum and the Committee's report set out in full the reasoning behind their conclusions, and the evidence which they used in coming to those conclusions."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said David Cameron had made a "disastrous error of judgment" over the way he has handled the issue.

During a phone-in broadcast on The Telegraph website, he said: "I think that Cameron should have asked her to resign and if she hadn't resigned, he should have kicked her out."

Comments (2)

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5:35pm Fri 4 Apr 14

varteg1 says...

Police 'urged'? they wouldn't take much 'urging' to carry out an investigation on someone accused of falsely claiming some benefit or other
But someone not only making spurious claims for a second mortgage but also almost being mendacious about their claim, the police are 'urged'.

It's a bloody pantomime, with the Dame laughing at the audience.
Police 'urged'? they wouldn't take much 'urging' to carry out an investigation on someone accused of falsely claiming some benefit or other But someone not only making spurious claims for a second mortgage but also almost being mendacious about their claim, the police are 'urged'. It's a bloody pantomime, with the Dame laughing at the audience. varteg1
  • Score: 9

9:44am Sun 6 Apr 14

seanie.ss4 says...

Yes, lovely to see our political system showing the utter contempt that it has for the public. There needs to be an end to the professional politician!
Yes, lovely to see our political system showing the utter contempt that it has for the public. There needs to be an end to the professional politician! seanie.ss4
  • Score: 4
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