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Ex-MP accused of fraud ‘was thousands of pounds in debt to drug dealer’

Jared O’Mara is on trial for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

26 January 2023

A former MP accused of making fraudulent expense claims to fund a drug habit was thousands of pounds “in debt with a dealer”, a court has heard.

Jared O’Mara, 41, who represented Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, “did cocaine instead of going to Parliament”, messages read to a jury said.

He is on trial for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in a bid to fraudulently claim up to £30,000 in taxpayers’ money.

On Thursday, Leeds Crown Court heard messages between O’Mara and co-defendant Gareth Arnold, who was his friend and “chief of staff” when the claims were submitted between June and August 2019.

Prosecutors said the messages included references to money-making schemes, bending the rules, demanding money from Ipsa, deleting records, and abandoning claims for payment that might ring alarm bells.

In a message from April 2019, read in court by prosecutor James Bourne-Arton, Arnold messaged another friend saying: “He’s a few k in debt with a dealer.”

The friend replied: “That’s a very dangerous game that. He wants to be careful no bad lads come for him. He’s on 80k a year ffs.”

Another message in June 2019 saw Arnold saying he had “just smashed loads of coke” with “local MP”.

In one message from July 2019, Arnold told O’Mara he had seen his mental health deteriorate and his drug use spiral “into something very strange”.

In another, Arnold told O’Mara: “You got shitfaced before a Look North TV interview and then harassed a female member of staff.

Gareth Arnold
Gareth Arnold (Danny Lawson/PA)

“It’s you who does cocaine instead of going to Parliament.”

In another exchange, O’Mara asked Arnold if he wanted to earn some money in a simple way that “involves bending the truth ever so slightly to both of our benefits”.

Messages between the pair about the allegedly fraudulent invoices show O’Mara said at one point: “Nailed my response to Ipsa, made it about disability and reasonable adjustments and told them I’m going to contact Mr Speaker.”

Arnold later said to O’Mara about one claim in July: “It’s been rejected four times now, I think any more pushing is going to raise alarms. Consider it revoked then.”

Jurors had previously heard that Arnold contacted South Yorkshire Police in July 2019 after “reaching a point at which he was no longer willing to participate in the fraud”.

In a call played to the court, Arnold said O’Mara had “started to entertain the idea that some sort of shadowy government cabal is trying to bring him down”.

Detective Sergeant Andrew Shields, who spoke to Arnold after his call to police, told the court they had spoken about O’Mara’s mental health, the submission of invoices to Ipsa and O’Mara’s cocaine use, which was “anything up to five grams a day”.

John Woodliff
John Woodliff (Jon Super/PA)

O’Mara is accused of making four fraudulent claims to Ipsa between June and August 2019 from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism SY, and submitting two invoices from Arnold for media and PR work that prosecutors say was never carried out.

It is also claimed that O’Mara, who appeared in court by videolink, submitted a false contract of employment for a friend, John Woodliff, “pretending” that he worked as a constituency support officer.

O’Mara is charged with eight counts of fraud by false representation, with Arnold jointly charged with six of the offences, and Woodliff jointly charged with one.

O’Mara won Sheffield Hallam for Labour from former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg in 2017, but later left the party after a series of controversies.

He stayed in office as an independent MP but did not contest the 2019 general election.

O’Mara, of Walker Close, Sheffield; Arnold, of School Lane, Dronfield, Derbyshire; and Woodliff, of Hesley Road, Shiregreen, Sheffield, deny all charges.

The trial continues.

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