Labour MP Fiona Onasanya jailed for lying to avoid speeding ticket

Three-month sentence at Old Bailey automatically triggers a recall petition in Peterborough seat

Rajeev SyalTue 29 Jan 2019 13.20 GMT

Three-month sentence at Old Bailey automatically triggers a recall petition in Peterborough seat

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 at the Old Bailey following a retrial.

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 appeals process has concluded.

Her brother Festus was sentenced to 10 months in jail for his part in the conspiracy.

The sentence represents the end of Onasanya’s short political career.

A trained solicitor and former councillor, she was selected by Labour in 2017, shortly before the general election. Her subsequent victory over the incumbent Stewart Jackson by 607 votes was unexpected. When she was interviewed shortly afterwards, she said she would like to become Britain’s first black female prime minister.

The jury heard that 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.

Onasanya has vowed to carry on as an MP, and has compared her plight to that of Jesus Christ in WhatsApp messages to fellow Labour MPs.

All major political parties, including Labour, have said they will campaign for Onasanya to be kicked out of parliament.

In remarks made before sentencing, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith on Tuesday said that in similar prosecutions for perverting the course of justice, those found guilty would expect a custodial sentence.

“If she wasn’t an MP and wasn’t in a position of responsibility and power, she would go inside.

“There is not one rule for those who are in a position of responsibility and power, and another for those who are not,” he said.

However, he added that she was of previous good character.

“She went into politics on a principled basis with a strong agenda for social justice,” he said.

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, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, would not be able to receive the necessary physiotherapy treatment 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 Old Bailey heard 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 Festus 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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