It started in December when they alleged that his expenses claim ‘included £18.21 for a food parcel for soldiers in Afghanistan’.
The facts are straightforward: the Echo reported that I had claimed for a troops’ food parcel when in reality the cost came out of my own pocket and I never submitted such a claim. Another fact is that the £10 gardener’s tip was not deliberately claimed for. Given the Echo’s refusal to print a front-page retraction, I am now referring the matter to the PCC.
This is the first time I have taken any paper to the PCC in eight years as the MP, but sloppy and sensationalist reporting of this kind should and will not be left unchallenged. A basic checking of the facts would have revealed the truth, which leads me to believe there is an agenda here.
Nothing quite like taking your local paper to the PCC for ’sloppy’ reporting and ‘unchecked’ facts to concentrate their investigative minds.
It seems that Lord Ashcroft is not the only one to be evasive when self-reporting on the legal basis for their financial affairs.
This week the Echo revealed that they had submitted a Freedom of Information request to delve further into Mr Baron’s affairs.
Sir Thomas Legg had ordered Baron to pay back £8,021 interest claimed through expenses for the £34,035 personal loan – not mortgage – on his second home in Noak Bridge.
Baron had claimed that he had a written agreement with the fees office that allowed him to break Parliamentary expenses rules by claiming the cash instead of claiming other expenses he says he incurred.
Mr Baron appealed to former High Court judge Sir Paul Kennedy.
In his report, rejecting Mr Baron’s appeal on grounds it “plainly broke the rules”, Sir Paul noted he had not seen the written agreement Mr Baron referred to.
The Echo, now pursuing un-sloppy and fact checked reporting with a vengeance, entered a FOI request to the Parliamentary Fees Office to see a copy of said agreement.
It initially refused their request, but determined fact checking reporters don’t give up lightly, and following an appeal agreed to answer.
The response stated: “We have now looked at the information which we hold and can inform you that we hold no information relating to any agreement that Mr Baron could increase his mortgage in 2004, so that he could use the money in lieu of other expense claims he did not make.”
It went on to add it did not mean conclusively the agreement was not made, but said: “simply that we have no information about such an agreement.”
The Echo asked Mr Baron if he had proof of the agreement agreement, and if he would make it public.
He refused to comment.
Over to you Mr Baron. The electorate awaits with interest.