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Fury as accused MPs get legal aid.

Summary: A furious political row erupts following disclosure that three Labour MPs accused of fiddling their expenses have been awarded legal aid.

A furious political row has erupted following the disclosure that three Labour MPs accused of fiddling their expenses had been awarded legal aid.

Tory leader David Cameron seized on the news the MPs would have their legal fees paid by the taxpayer, vowing a Conservative government would ensure it could not happen again.

However Justice Secretary Jack Straw hit back, accusing the Conservatives of attempting to block moves to enable the courts to means-test white-collar defendants for legal aid.

The news that David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine would receive legal aid broke as Mr Cameron was heading for an election campaign engagement in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

The Tory leader stepped off his battlebus to roundly condemn the decision: "What a complete outrage. What a complete outrage. The people who wouldn't even stand in the dock and answer the charges now expect all of you to pay for their defence."

However, he was accused by Mr Straw of "grandstanding" and of attempting to obstruct changes currently going through to reintroduce means-testing for legal aid.

Mr Straw stressed the decision to award legal aid had been taken by officials at Southwark Crown Court in London, where the three MPs are due to stand trial later in the year.

The three MPs are accused of stealing almost Au60,000 between them in allowances through false mortgage applications, rent claims and invoices for services.

The cost of preparing their defence and of their legal representatives is likely to run into six figures, depending on the length of the trial.

But it could spiral far higher as the men threaten to take their battle to have the case against them thrown out to the Supreme Court.

Independent Television News Limited 2010. All rights reserved.

Independent Television News Limited 2009. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Independent Television News Limited (ITN)
Date:Apr 14, 2010
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