Disgraced ex-MP Jim Devine sued for £18k damages

Jim Devine.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
Jim Devine. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A disgraced former MP was today ordered to pay his ex-office manager nearly £18,000 in damages after a judge rejected the past politician’s evidence as “incredible”.

Marion Kinley sued Jim Devine, 60, the former Labour MP for Livingston in West Lothian who was jailed over false accounting offences involving claiming £8,365 expenses, maintaining that she had been defamed by him.

Both Ms Kinley and Mr Devine represented themselves at the hearing earlier this year. During it she maintained that he had made damaging statements about her to “cover up his own actions”.

The former office manager told the Court of Session in Edinburgh: “They were vindictive. They were just set out to cover up for himself with absolutely no regard for what effect it would have on me.”

She said that it had been said she was being investigated by the police and Special Branch. She added: “He also stated I had helped myself to bonus money I was not entitled to. I had stolen significant sums of money while office manager and the reason I did this was because I had a serious gambling problem.”

A judge agreed that Ms Kinley, of Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, had been defamed by the former MP and said: “I have had no difficulty in concluding that the defender (Mr Devine) when he made these statements to the pursuer (Ms Kinley) and others knew them to be false.”

Lord Bannatyne said: “It appears to me that these allegations are of a serious nature in that they allege criminal conduct and impugned the pursuer’s honesty. I am satisfied that the pursuer has suffered significant distress as a result of these allegations.”

“I observe that the defender continued to insist on the veracity of these allegations right to the end of the proof. As I have earlier set out I am satisfied that when he made these statement he knew them not to be true and that they were made maliciously,”

The judge said: “I accepted that her reputation within the political community and wider general community was damaged.”

Lord Bannatyne said that “without any difficulty” he had found Ms Kinley and another witness, Eilidh McDonald, who had worked for a time as a parliamentary researcher for the politician, to be credible and reliable in their evidence.

He added: “Equally without any difficulty I found the defender not to be a credible or reliable witness.”

Ms Kinley had raised an action originally suing Mr Devine, who was jailed for 16 months in 2011, for £75,000 over false allegations against her.

She also took the ex-MP to an employment tribunal and won an award of about £35,000 after a finding of constructive dismissal in 2010. She told the court that the House of Commons had paid her half the amount following the judgement, but no money had been paid by the former MP.

In the civil damages action Ms Kinley maintained that between June and October 2008 while she was off work the then MP told Ms McDonald that she was under investigation and that she had fraudulently claimed for phone bills and stolen money while working as office manager. Similar false allegations were said to have been made to others.

She also maintained that a letter sent to her by the politician in October 2008 contained similar allegations of falsifying claims, giving him false information about previous employment and faking the MP’s signature in relation to a letter from sheriff officers.

The former politician in the pleadings denied saying these things to other people, but also contended that if he had said them they were substantially true.

Lord Bannatyne said that in taking the defence plea of truth and insisting on it until judgement “has resulted in further distress” to Ms Kinley.

The court heard that Ms Kinley was off work for medical reasons and that her absence was triggered by a phone call by a woman posing as a Sunday Telegraph reporter, Eileen Hurleyheigh, who claimed she was investigating MPs’ expenses and particularly Ms Kinley’s salary.

Lord Bannatyne said: “It was not disputed by the defender that in fact the person who phoned posing to be Miss Hurleyheigh was a Fiona Fox. Nor was it disputed by the defender that he had instigated the making of the phone call, the content of the call and the pretence.”

“The pursuer in the course of March 31 found out about this and was greatly distressed, leading to her absence from work,” said the judge.

He added: “The actings tend to support the pursuer’s position that there was a campaign by the defender maliciously seeking to put forward untruths in which the defender never had any belief.”

Ms Fox later gave a statement saying she deeply regretted that she had been drawn “into this unpleasant sage” and that she had been duped and assured “that this kind of prank was part and parcel of the humour in his team”.

Ms Kinley was due to return to work in the October and Ms McDonald and told him when she was coming back. His response was: “No she f---ing won’t.”, the court heard.

Lord Bannatyne said he formed “a very favourable impression” of the former researcher as a witness and added that he found Ms Kinley “a most impressive witness”.

The judge said of the former MP’s testimony: “I found the defender to be a wholly unsatisfactory witness and in relation to any matter which was in dispute I was not prepared to accept his evidence.”

“Generally looking at his evidence, it made no sense; it was implausible; it did not fit with documentation which was produced; it was not consistent; and when subjected to cross-examination the defender was on a number of occasions shown not to have been accurate when earlier giving evidence,” said the judge.

At one stage the former MP was questioned over a newspaper report of what was said at his criminal trial. He claimed he did not say what was attributed to him.

But Lord Bannatyne said he could see no reason for the ex-MP being misquoted and added: “It is not a matter which he could have forgotten. This, to my mind, was an occasion when the defender was caught out in his evidence and shown to be lying.”

Ms Kinley said that as a result of the allegations she had been unable to sleep at night and very afraid of the police coming to her house. She found it difficult to get another job and was unemployed for six months after her constructive dismissal.

The judge said: “She felt that people’s perception had been that there was ‘no smoke without fire’. The allegations had been embarrassing to her and they had had an effect on her whole family.”

Lord Bannatyne said he would grant a total figure of £17,816 to Ms Kinley after taking account of her pain and suffering. He rejected making a further award for disadvantage in the labour market.