Conservative Member of Parliament Jacqui Lait has launched a libel action against the London Evening Standard over a story headed “Women MPs will be put off by Kelly reforms”.
The MP for Beckenham, in Kent, has become one of the first politicians to sue over the expenses scandal by demanding damages of up to £50,000 over the story, which she claims in defamatory.
Lait claims the article, which was published in November, suggests she had deliberately failed to account for a large profit she had made when selling a taxpayer-funded home and was ordered to pay back almost £25,000 by the Parliamentary Fees Office.
Denying the claim in a writ filed to the High Court, Lait said the allegation undermined her concerns that plans to reform MPs’ funding might deter women from standing for election.
The writ, which was submitted on the MPs behalf by her legal firm Carter-Ruck, says Lait disputes the allegation that she deliberately and dishonestly tried to avoid tax and claimed excessive expenses by registering a residence as primary for tax purposes and secondary for expense purposes.
Lait claims there is a “world of difference” between her “historical error” and the newspaper’s allegation.
Lait said her reputation has been harmed by the article and that she has suffered hurt, embarrassment and distress as a result.
She said the story was especially aggravating, as it was published shortly before the Crown Prosecution Service was considering whether to charge four unnamed MPs.
Lait is seeking aggravated damages, saying the story was written in a cavalier and reckless way, and that she was not contacted before publication.
Although the Standard published an apology on November 29, this was not the proper and fulsome apology she wished for, and she accepted it only because her priority was a prompt apology, the writ added.