The possibility of Phil Woolas suing the Telegraph is receding into the distance like a herd of rhinoceri fleeing from a particularly nasty bush fire. The Telegraph seem to be secure with their details. Woolas appears to be using.....let's say.....an interesting defence. But his pleas that he is being "hung out to dry" for being too transparent are, ironically, true. He didn't have to submit receipts, but he did. I'll let the Telegraph take up the story so far below. But first, to summarise:
-Woolas claimed £210.31 backed up by various receipts which included permissable and impermissable items. The impermissable items came to £47.73.
-Woolas claims that the £47.73 for impermissable items wasn't claimed and wasn't reimbursed.
-He claims that the balance of £47.73 was for other permissable items not on the receipt, which by remarkable coincidence came to £47.73.
-In other words, he is allowed up to £400 a month for food. So whether or not his claim is supported by receipts for permissable or impermissable items, the claim is always for permissable items. That's what he appears to be saying.
-I think I need to lie down now.
Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, denied a report in yesterday's Daily Telegraph that he had claimed for the cost of women's clothing and other impermissible items on his House of Commons expenses.
He called the allegation "disgusting" and he insisted that he had only claimed for food, which he was entitled to do. But further analysis of the receipts submitted by Mr Woolas in support of his expenses claims appeared to undermine his assertion.
In a statement issued on Friday night, the minister, who is also embroiled in a row over the right of former Gurkha soldiers to live in Britain, said: "It is untrue that I claimed these things. It misunderstands the system. The receipts are there, but I never asked for or got money for these items. To suggest otherwise is disgusting."
Yesterday, Mr Woolas told the BBC that the details of the allegation did not stand up to investigation.
However, analysis of the receipts does not support his version of events. In August 2004, Mr Woolas, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, claimed £210.31 for what was described on his expenses form as "food". He was reimbursed in full from the public purse.
The claim was backed by receipts from Tesco, for £69.30; Marks and Spencer, for £16.69; Sainsbury's, for £27.33; and two from Somerfield for a total of £96.99. The five receipts come to £210.31.
However, not all of the items purchased are permissible as expenses under House of Commons rules. The Tesco bill, dated Aug 12, included a pair of women's shoes for £23, two packets of disposable bibs priced £2.98 each, a bottle of nail polish at £5.75, three comics for £5.14, two packs of babies wipes at £1.44 each and a ladies' jumper at £5. The cost of these impermissible items comes to £47.73, which makes the food part of the total claim only £162.58.
Mr Woolas insisted that his receipts exceeded the sums he claimed; but in this case they matched exactly.
Under the rules at the time, every MP could claim back food bills of up to £400 a month without the need to submit receipts; had Mr Woolas taken advantage of this system, the impermissible items would not have been revealed.
Asked last night whether his claim for precisely £210.31 indicated that he had put the shoes and nail varnish on expenses, Mr Woolas replied: "I take your point and I understand the extrapolation." However, he insisted he had done nothing wrong and added: "The original accusation is untrue. I am being hung out to dry for being honest. The key points to remember is that I don't need to submit receipts to back the claims and I could have actually claimed £400 for the food.
"The claim is one document and the receipts are another. The fact that they both add up to the same amount doesn't prove anything. It doesn't mean that the fees office paid for the non-food items on the receipt."