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Britain censors some expense files

Scandal files were posted with key details blacked out. Still, they made for good reading.

LONDON - Britons got the chance yesterday to see the lawmaker expense claims that sparked a political scandal, but found the most outrageous details hidden by the thick black strokes of a censor's pen.

Parliamentary authorities posted online details of four years' worth of legislators' claims after a lengthy legal battle, though thousands of pages were obscured amid concerns over privacy and security. Items blacked out include addresses of lawmakers' second homes, destinations on train tickets, and the names of hotels used on business trips. The heavy deletion marks make it impossible to determine what many of the claims are.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper has published detailed reports on the expenses since May, after it was leaked an uncensored copy of the documents - meaning many of the most damaging details were already known.

But omitting the most notorious claims, such as a 1,645-pound ($2,666) charge for an ornamental duck house, from publicly available documents will likely stoke further outrage over parliamentary secrecy. "There is material that should have been produced and has not been," opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Norman Baker said.

The censored documents do make interesting reading. Senior opposition Conservative lawmaker George Osborne charged 47 pounds ($77) for two DVDs of one of his own speeches, titled "Value for Taxpayers' Money."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed the cost of a satellite-TV package, and charges to have his shirts ironed. Opposition Liberal Democrat Lembit Opik submitted a claim for 19.99 pounds ($32.72) for a comedy wig to wear to a charity bash.

Opposition leader David Cameron charged to have weeds removed from his chimney. He said yesterday that he would repay about 1,000 pounds ($1,636) of the claimed expenses.

One lawmaker charged 1 pence for a 12-second phone call.

"I don't think we are at the end of this story at all," said Alistair Graham, former chairman of a parliamentary oversight committee. "We may not even be at the beginning of the end. I think this is going to run and run."

Revelations over the expenses have led dozens of lawmakers to quit ministerial jobs, or announce they will leave Parliament soon. An outraged British public scolded the country's major parties by voting in large numbers for fringe groups in recent local and European elections.

Some details disclosed by the newspaper were comical: such as claims for pornographic movies, cookies, horse manure, and maintenance to the moat of a country mansion. But the Telegraph also revealed how some lawmakers manipulated rules to furnish or upgrade homes, avoid taxes, or make claims for mortgage payments on home loans that had already been paid off.

Addresses of lawmakers were not included in the newly released data, an important omission because of concerns that some have abused rules that allow legislators based outside London to claim expenses for a property closer to Parliament.

The Telegraph said it would publish some of the uncensored documents in full today.