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"I'm going back to the Lords..."
In July last year Lord Hanningfield was jailed after being convicted of fiddling his House of Lords expenses. In January, four months after his release, he told Charles Thomson how he spent his days looking after his chickens and his beloved dog Jefferson. In a second exclusive interview, he reveals that he is on his way back to the House of Lords.
Weds 7th March 2012, Yellow Advertiser

A WEEK ago, Lord Hanningfield told me he had some news about the House of Lords and suggested we meet in Battlesbridge.

The last time we met, he was trying to raise £30,000 after being told he could only return to the Lords if he repaid the money he was convicted of falsely claiming on expenses.

“You’re the first person I’ve told this to,” he says as o ur drinks arrive. “I’m going back in April.”

How did he raise the cash?

“I won’t tell you about that,” he grins. “But it’s good to have some good friends.”

What about his other debts?

“I owe about £200,000 in legal fees. Because I hadn’t set out to do anything criminal, I thought I had a good chance. I paid for my own defence. I rather regret that now.

“By the time my trial rolled around, all the others had gone to jail. I didn’t have a chance. When people in jail found out I’d spent £200,000 on lawyers and I was in prison, they couldn’t believe it. They thought anyone who could pay that much for their defence would never go to jail.”

Last time we met, Hanningfield told me he was writing a book. Does he hope that will help him pay his legal bills?

“Yes, that’s the whole idea. I think it’s quite lucrative.”

Has he made much progress?

“I’m wondering about writing it from Jefferson’s perspective. People love dog books, don’t they? Of course, I only got Jefferson seven years ago so I’d have to write all the way up until then as a sort of memory thing, then switch to Jefferson’s perspective.

“Or perhaps it could be me talking to Jefferson. I talk to him a lot. I was discussing with him the other day what haircut he should have this year. We were in the village and people were laughing.”

Less lucrative will be his lawsuit against Essex Police for trespass and false arrest. I tell him I was surprised to see he was only seeking £6,500.

“Yes,” he says. “Well, I’d have liked to sue them for a million or something but I left that to my legal people. I wasn’t even consulted.”

Although he is looking forward to returning to the Lords, Hanningfield has enjoyed staying at home and looking after his animals. Before, he says, he neglected his private life at the expense of his work.

“One of the ways I’ve been living is because I got a tax refund when I came out of prison,” he adds. “I didn’t give my personal life any time at all so I wasn’t paying attention to things like that. I was working six or seven days a week.”

Does he regret not spending much time on his personal life?

“I do. I was married to the job so I never got married. I missed out on a lot of personal stuff. It would have been nice to have children, even though I’m close to my sister’s children. I suppose that’s why I have the dog substitute.”

Would he consider a relationship now?

“I don’t think so. I’m too set in my ways. Too chaotic. Clothes all over the place. I’d be a job to live with. It was bad enough sharing a cell with someone and deciding what TV channel to watch.”

When did he last have a girlfriend?

“In my thirties. I’ve had lots of sociable lady friends but not girlfriends.”

He tells me his new beard has attracted female attention.

“I think the beard makes me look thinner,” he says. “I grew it in prison because I couldn’t be bothered to shave. Most of the ladies like it. I don’t know what they’ll make of it in the Lords but a few other Lords have beards. Some have very long grey beards.”

With his return to the Lords imminent, what would he do if police decided to pursue charges over his Essex County Council expenses?

“I don’t even see what they could pursue me over,” he says defiantly. “If they do try to pursue me over anything then I will fight it, but I haven’t got a clue what it would be. I haven’t claimed any expenses from Essex since 1998 when I became a peer. I didn’t want to get it confused with the Lords, ironically.”

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