MP 'totally innocent' over benefit

Messenger Newspapers: Wellingborough Conservative MP Peter Bone has insisted that allegations made in a newspaper against him in relation to claims of benefit fraud are "without foundation" (Wellingborough Conservatives/PA) Wellingborough Conservative MP Peter Bone has insisted that allegations made in a newspaper against him in relation to claims of benefit fraud are "without foundation" (Wellingborough Conservatives/PA)

A Conservative MP has insisted he is "totally innocent" of allegations of benefit fraud, after his home was raided by police and he was subjected to three hours of questioning.

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone said he was questioned in relation to a long-running dispute with Northamptonshire County Council about the funding of residential care for his mother-in-law, Dorothy Sweeney, which is currently the subject of a civil court case.

The Times reported that q uestions were asked about concerns that the council was not given accurate information about Mrs Sweeney's assets before providing benefits totalling around £100,000. Anyone with assets of more than £23,250 is expected to pay their own care home fees.

In a detailed statement responding to the newspaper's allegations, Mr Bone said his home in Northamptonshire was raided by police in March 2013, and that the following month he and his wife Jennie were questioned about a complaint raised by the county council.

He said that Mrs Bone had been in dispute with the council since 2009 about the funding of her mother's care needs and that in January 2013 a writ was issued claiming that she owed them money.

Despite being questioned by police almost a year ago, Mr Bone said there has still been "no resolution" to the case. He said he had written to Northamptonshire's chief constable complaining about the force's failure to complete its investigations in a "speedy and appropriate manner", while Mrs Bone has applied to Northampton County Court to have the case struck out on the basis that there is no reasonable ground for bringing the claim.

Mr Bone said: "Ultimately, the issue at the heart of this dispute is very simple: either Jennie and I have looked after her mother properly, or we are devious, thieving, crooks.

"I know the answer to that question and based on all the evidence, which they have, they should know too that we are totally innocent."

A spokeswoman for Northamptonshire County Council said: "We have been advised that we cannot comment on the matter at all."

In a detailed statement, Mr Bone severely criticised both the county council and the police force over their handling of the case.

He said NCC had "not complied with the regulations", denied his wife a right of appeal and been "derelict in their duty to reply to correspondence", with one reply taking almost a year.

Such "outrageous behaviour" did not surprise him, he said, as he regularly received similar complaints from constituents.

"Am I surprised? No. Am I disappointed? Yes," he said.

He said he had written to the chief executive concerning what he considered a case of "maladministration" and insisted it was right for him to do so on behalf of his wife.

"Just because Jennie is my wife does not preclude her from accessing the help of her local MP, as I would do that for any constituent," he said.

Mr Bone complained that during the search of his house, officers had examined " all of my parliamentary papers, including constituents' letters" as well as personal files such as medical records.

Most of the questions in the subsequent interrogation - which lasted four hours for his wife and three for him - " had no reference whatsoever to NCC", he added.

And there had been " a lot of promises and assurances which have counted for nothing" from the force over the return of documents - now completed - and the ending of the investigation.

"Many people would say that the police have misled us," the MP said.

He also questioned the source of the newspaper story: "I am left wondering whether this was leaked from within the police."

Mr Bone said the "most hurtful" aspect of the affair was the suggestion that the couple may have "stolen" his mother-in-law's money.

He pointed to a sworn affidavit in which she made clear she had signed over power of attorney so that her money could be used by her daughter " to pay off personal debts incurred while she was ill and towards my grandson's school fees, as well as care home fees and personal expenses".

"I did not want to know the detail of how the money was spent. That was entirely up to Jeanette. I just cannot understand why the police are investigating Jeanette and Peter. I have no complaint," Mr Bone quoted the affidavit as continuing.

"I thought that the worst time in my life was when Jennie was diagnosed with severe bowel and liver cancer and given very little chance of survival," he concluded.

"At that time, our son was only a few months old and it was a complete nightmare.

"However, I was wrong: the last year for Jennie and I has been even worse - our integrity, honesty and decency has been attacked in the most hurtful way possible."

A Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman said: "A 61-year-old man was formally interviewed under caution in April 2013 in connection with alleged fraud offences.

"A police file was submitted to the CPS in November 2013 and we await their decision."

Mrs Bone - who has a taxpayer-funded job as the MP's constituency office manager - has become a well-known Westminster character due to her husband's habit of mentioning her in the Commons.

He so regularly phrases questions to David Cameron as being on her behalf that the Prime Minister once told the Commons that " a very big part of my life is trying to give pleasure to Mrs Bone".

She recently joined her husband for a television interview and urged the PM to hold an immediate referendum on Britain's EU membership, in line with Mr Bone's strident eurosceptic stance.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I think there's a process going forward here with the appropriate authorities and that's what should be followed."

The CPS said in a statement: " In November 2013, the CPS received a file from Northamptonshire Police concerning a 61-year-old man formally interviewed under caution in April 2013 in connection with alleged fraud offences.

"We will reach a decision in this case as soon as is practicable."

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said in an updated statement: "We have read the comments made by Peter Bone and contest many points he has made.

"Because of ongoing legal considerations we cannot comment on this matter any further."

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