Labour suspends MP found guilty of speeding lies

Fiona Onasanya urged to resign after colluding with brother to avoid speeding points

A Labour MP has been suspended and urged to resign from parliament by her party after being found guilty of repeatedly lying to avoid a speeding ticket.

Fiona Onasanya, the MP for Peterborough, was accused of colluding with her brother to avoid having three points added to her driver’s licence by claiming that a former lodger had been driving her Nissan Micra when it was found travelling at 41mph in a 30mph zone.

Police established the former lodger was in Russia at the time of the offence.

Onasanya, a solicitor, was accused at the Old Bailey of inventing a series of lies over 17 months to hide the fact that she was driving the car.

After a retrial, she was found guilty of perverting the course of justice, a charge which usually results in a custodial sentence.

The verdict has ruined the 35-year-old’s career and left Jeremy Corbyn with a significant political problem, given the delicate balance of power in the House of Commons.

A Labour spokesman said the party was “deeply disappointed” in Onasanya’s behaviour and that she had been suspended from the party and should resign as an MP. She may also be struck off as a solicitor.

The verdict raises the possibility of a byelection in Peterborough, a seat Onasanya won by 607 votes at the general election. She beat the Conservative incumbent, Stewart Jackson, in a constituency where a high percentage of people voted to leave the EU.

Keen to be seen as preparing for government, Labour could struggle to hold the Cambridgeshire seat, party aides said. If Onasanya quit, the byelection could be held in January or February.

Initially, a notice of intended prosecution form was sent back to authorities claiming Onasanya’s former lodger was driving when the car was recorded speeding shortly after 10pm on 24 July last year.

Days before the first trial began, the MP’s 34-year-old brother Festus, from Cambridge, admitted three charges of perverting the course of justice to avoid speeding points.

The prosecution alleged the MP repeatedly avoided contact with the police and deliberately misled them about the form and who was driving the car. When Onasanya was finally interviewed by police in January, she refused to say who was driving or who had filled in the form.

The court heard that part of the investigation examined mobile phone cell site evidence. It showed both of Onasanya’s mobile phones connecting with masts in the area close to the traffic camera at the time it was triggered.

Her case became increasingly difficult to sustain when, during the first trial, her former head of communications Christian DeFeo came forward to tell the police the MP had been at his home in Thorney, near the speed camera, on the night it was activated.

Onasanya claimed in court she did not know who was driving the car and that she had never asked her brother about the incident.

During the second trial, she said she must have been a passenger in the car, which was being driven by her brother.

The prosecutor David Jeremy QC told the jury Onasanya lied “persistently and deliberately” to avoid prosecution.

Referring to sentencing, the judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, told Jeremy: “This is not going to be easy, not to give any indication one way or the other. What your client should understand, although she knows the seriousness of this, I will listen to all considerations.”

Onasanya gave no reaction to the unanimous verdict in court and did not comment to the media.

She will be sentenced alongside her brother on a date yet to be determined.

A Labour spokesperson said Onasanya’s behaviour “falls well below what is expected of politicians. She should now resign”.

She had suspended from the party, and therefore the whip, with immediate effect.

Donna Rayner, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said Onasanya and her brother had both lied to the authorities “in the hope they could avoid the consequences of their speeding offences … Clearly the jury did not believe her explanation.”

If Onasanya receives a sentence of 12 months or more, she will be automatically barred from being an MP. Even if she receives a lesser sentence, she will face a recall petition.

The remain-backing MP won the bellwether seat in 2017 – the first time the constituency had elected an MP out of line with the national result since 1929.

Peterborough is 13th on the list of Tory target constituencies, requiring a swing of just 0.64% to fall to Theresa May’s party, which has already chosen Paul Bristow, a political consultant and local councillor, to fight the seat.

Labour has not yet chosen a candidate, but the Corbyn aide Katy Clark and Unite union activist Lisa Forbes have both been spoken of as possible candidates. It is likely that Ukip or other Eurosceptic groups would try to make inroads into the Conservative vote.

Stewart Jackson, the Tory Brexiter she beat in the 2017 election, said he hoped Onasanya could find a public role in the future. “She made a foolish error and it’s a personal tragedy. A possible byelection will be close but I think the Conservative party must, on balance, be favourites,” he said.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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