January 29, 2019
Three-month sentence automatically triggers a recall petition in Peterborough seat
Former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya jailed in speeding case
An MP has been given a three-month jail sentence for lying to avoid a speeding ticket, automatically triggering a recall petition in her Cambridgeshire seat.
Fiona Onasanya, the MP for Peterborough and a former Labour whip, was sentenced for perverting the course of justice after a retrial.
She appeared at the Old Bailey in London on Tuesday to be sentenced alongside her brother Festus Onasanya, who pleaded guilty to three similar charges.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith sentenced the solicitor-turned-MP to three months in prison and her brother to 10 months.
The judge said: “It’s a tragedy that you have found yourselves here and in this predicament but it’s a tragedy that you have brought on yourselves.”
Fiona Onasanya did not react to the verdict but was taken away to immediately begin her sentence.
Under laws introduced in 2015, any prison term, even a suspended sentence, leads to a recall petition, which will be open for six weeks and can force a byelection if signed by 10% of voters in a constituency.
Because Onasanya, 35, has appealed against her conviction, this may not happen for several months. The recall petition cannot be opened until the appeal process has concluded.
It remains unclear whether Onasanya will stand down while in prison or continue to be paid as an MP. She can expect to be released after serving half of her sentence.
Onasanya – who compared her plight to that of Jesus in WhatsApp messages to Labour MPs – previously said she would continue to protest her innocence and wished to remain as an MP.
The sentence is nonetheless likely to represent the end of her short political career, with Labour and the Tories both having said they will campaign for her to be forced to step down.
In remarks at sentencing, the judge said her decision to remain as an MP was outside the remit of the court.
“The impact of your conviction has been disastrous for you. You have been expelled from the Labour party and it seems inevitable you will be struck off as a solicitor,” he said.
“But as things stand, it is not right to say that you have lost everything. You have decided to remain as a member of parliament despite your expulsion. It is well beyond the remit of this court to speculate on what the future holds for you as member of parliament for Peterborough.”
Referring to the fact she has multiple sclerosis, Stuart-Smith said: “I also take into account your illness though there is no medical evidence to suggest that your unfortunate condition would make a significant difference to your ability to sustain a period of imprisonment.”
Sentencing Osananya, he said he had to give her a custodial sentence on the basis that she had took a series of “disastrous” decisions from November 2017 until her trial that were designed to pervert the course of justice.
“There cannot be one law for those in positions of power, privilege and responsibility and another for those who are not,” he said.
However, he added, she was of previous good character. “She went into politics on a principled basis with a strong agenda for social justice,” he said.
A former councillor, Onasanya was selected by Labour in 2017, shortly before the general election. Her victory over the incumbent Stewart Jackson by 607 votes was unexpected. When she was interviewed shortly afterwards, Onasanya said she would like to become Britain’s first black female prime minister.
The jury heard she had repeatedly lied after her car was caught by a speeding camera driving at 41mph in a 30mph zone.
Her sentencing will also prompt a formal inquiry by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which could lead to her being struck off.
Christine Agnew QC, counsel for Onasanya, said: “This is not just a fall from grace, it is a very public fall from grace. She will inevitably be struck off as a solicitor. Her life as a politician and her life as a solicitor will come to an end,” she said.
She argued that Onasanya would not be able to receive the necessary physiotherapy treatment for her multiple sclerosis inside prison.
“She has also had to come to terms with an MS diagnosis … It is clear that she is likely to suffer from further attacks given the nature of the diagnosis.”
The jury was told of evidence the MP was texting as well as speeding on the evening of Monday 24 July last year, during the summer recess. The prosecution alleged she went on to collude with her brother Festus to avoid a speeding ticket in a series of exchanges with the police.
The court was told she was sent a notice of intended prosecution to fill out, but it was sent back naming the driver as Aleks Antipow, an acquaintance of her brother who was away visiting his parents in Russia.
Festus Onasanya, 34, from Cambridge, pleaded guilty to three counts of perverting the course of justice over speeding, including for the 24 July incident.
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