A former MP accused of fraud went to his constituency office “once or twice” in six months and attended a staff meeting “on some sort of substance”, an ex-employee has told a court.
Jared O’Mara, 41, who represented Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, told staff he wanted to put videos of himself “doing comedic routines” online and “shouted and swore” at employees who challenged him, jurors have heard.
He is on trial for submitting fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) between June and August 2019.
Prosecutors say he tried to fraudulently claim up to £30,000 in taxpayers’ money to fund an “extensive cocaine habit”.
On Wednesday, O’Mara’s former case worker Kevin Gregory-Coyne told Leeds Crown Court the accused was “almost non-existent” in his Sheffield office, and came in “once, possibly twice” between November 2018 and April 2019.
Mr Gregory-Coyne said O’Mara went to Parliament “very rarely” and used a “range of excuses” to avoid attending, including “slipping in the shower”.
“Other times he just didn’t go. There were a couple of occasions when I was meant to be escorting him down and he texted me at the last moment and said ‘I’m not coming’ and never offered an explanation,” Mr Gregory-Coyne told jurors.
The former junior case worker said O’Mara turned up at a meeting in February 2019 “about an hour late” and “appeared to be on some sort of substance” when he arrived.
“He was gurning, he was clenching his teeth, he was sweating and talking at a million miles an hour,” Mr Gregory-Coyne said.
“I do remember saying to my colleagues at the time, ‘I do think he’s on something’.”
Mr Gregory-Coyne told the court that during the meeting O’Mara said he “wanted to create videos of him doing speeches because he said he wasn’t able to go down to Parliament and make a speech in the chamber due to his anxiety”.
“His idea was to film speeches and put it up on social media, put it up on Patreon, which is a paid subscription website, and also comedy routines – he fancied himself as a comedian.
“He said he wanted to do comedic routines and put them up as well.”
Mr Gregory-Coyne said when another staff member asked O’Mara if he was allowed to do a second job, the then MP “wasn’t happy with being challenged” and threatened to sack him.
The court heard that Mr Gregory-Coyne contacted Nic Dakin in the Labour whips’ office in March 2019 after becoming concerned that O’Mara was not going to attend a Brexit vote in Parliament, citing the fact that he was suffering a mental health crisis and had “uncovered a conspiracy at Ipsa”.
O’Mara won Sheffield Hallam for Labour from former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg in 2017, but later left the party after a series of controversies.
He stayed in office as an independent MP but did not contest the 2019 general election.
Mr Gregory-Coyne said: “Despite the fact (O’Mara) was an independent he maintained some sort of relationship with Nic Dakin.
“He burned a lot of bridges in terms of other MPs, colleagues, and there was no party machinery because he was an independent.”
The witness said he learned in April 2019 that O’Mara had “signed people up to contracts before they had been vetted in Parliament”.
“I highlighted to him this might be something to think about, it might be a concern, especially if they were to fail vetting,” Mr Gregory-Coyne said.
“He was rather angry, he told me to not question his authority again, shouted at me, swore at me and then that was it.”
The court heard that O’Mara sacked Mr Gregory-Coyne in April 2019, accusing him of breaching confidence, and that Mr Gregory-Coyne later took him to tribunal.
O’Mara is accused of making four fraudulent claims to Ipsa from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism SY, and submitting two invoices from his “chief of staff” Gareth Arnold for media and PR work that prosecutors say was never carried out.
It is also claimed that O’Mara, who appeared in court by videolink, submitted a false contract of employment for a friend, John Woodliff, “pretending” that he worked for him as a constituency support officer.
O’Mara is charged with eight counts of fraud by false representation, with Arnold jointly charged with six of the offences, and Woodliff jointly charged with one.
O’Mara, of Walker Close, Sheffield; Arnold, of School Lane, Dronfield, Derbyshire; and Woodliff, of Hesley Road, Shiregreen, Sheffield, deny all charges.
The trial continues.
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