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UK Expense Scandal Widens With Disclosure Of $2,600 Duck Hut

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LONDON — A lawmaker at the center of Britain's growing expense account scandal said Saturday he has been humiliated by public revelations about his attempt to get taxpayers to pay for a duck hut on his country estate.

Opposition Conservative Party legislator Peter Viggers' duck hut _ used to shield ducks from predators _ has become a potent symbol of expense account excess in recent days.

He tried in vain to bill taxpayers 1,645 pounds ($2,600) for the structure _ just one of many misdeeds in a scandal that has turned British voters against their elected representatives and led many chagrined lawmakers to say they will step down when their current terms are up.

"I have made a ridiculous and grave error of judgment," said Viggers, who has dropped plans to seek re-election. "I am ashamed and humiliated and I apologize. As has been reported, my claim for the duck house was rightly 'not allowed' by the Fees Office. I paid for it myself, and in fact it was never liked by the ducks and is now in storage."

Viggers, 71, was told by Conservative Party leader David Cameron not to seek another term after he was found to have sought reimbursement of 30,000 pounds ($47,660) for gardening expenses over three years.

New polls released Saturday indicated that an increasing number of Britons want a national election to be held this year, and there is a strong amount of interest in new candidates from smaller parties rather than the three major parties that have long dominated British politics.

Still, there are no indications that Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party is far behind in the polls, plans to risk an early vote. He is required by law to call an election by the middle of next year.

Prominent Labour Party figure Ian McCartney, a former party chairman, on Saturday joined the ranks of lawmakers indicating they will not seek re-election, although he said health problems were to blame.

McCartney made his surprise announcement several days after disclosing that he had paid back nearly 15,000 pounds ($23,800) of expense account claims for champagne flutes, wine glasses, sofas and other household items.

Andrew Mackay, who had already quit as an aide to Cameron over his expenses claims, said on Saturday that he will stand down as a lawmaker at the next election.

He was repeatedly heckled at a public meeting he held Friday in his parliamentary constituency.

Mackay claimed housing allowances on one house, while his wife Julie Kirkbride _ also a lawmaker _ claimed benefits on another home, meaning taxpayers were subsidizing two of the couple's properties.

Voters circulated a petition on Saturday calling on Kirkbride also to stand down.

Some of the mystery surrounding how Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper got access to millions of receipts from parliamentary expense account folders was solved Friday night when a former special forces officer disclosed that he had served as the middleman for the information.

John Wick, now a private security consultant, said he provided the data because it was in the public interest for the truth about expense account abuse to come out.

"Parliament will be a better place, society will be a better place," he said.

Wick, a Conservative Party backer, did not say how he obtained the information or whether the newspaper had paid him for it.