Council trips lead to police inquiry

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The police have been called in to investigate the running of Labour- controlled Doncaster Council, after a critical report by the district auditor published earlier this year.

Investigations by South Yorkshire Police's Commercial Branch are thought to focus on the expenses claims of some councillors who went on foreign trips. The district auditor's report drew attention to the fact that trips to various parts of the world, including China, Japan, Poland, Sweden and the United States, appeared not to have been authorised, and had not been the subject of any reports about their purpose to other councillors.

Yesterday, a police spokes-man said that officers were "analysing a number of documents" following a meeting with the district auditor but it was "too early to say whether there is any evidence of any criminal offence having being committed".

The news of the police investigation came as it emerged that the scope of the district auditor's investigations have been widened to include the actions of several council officials who are thought to have gone on overseas trips. Because of the police investigations, a second report by the district auditor, scheduled to be published later this month, will probably now not be issued until after the general election. The Labour Party has also widened the scope of its own enquiries into the affair. Neil Swan, a former councillor who has written to Tony Blair about his concerns that the council was being run by a small group within the Labour party, called the Miners' Community Group, has been told in response that the whole local party is being investigated.

In response to his letter, Sally Morgan, the head of party liaison, said that "the procedure and conduct of Doncaster District are under scrutiny". The Labour Party had previously been reluctant to say it was investigating its councillors, arguing that it was awaiting the second report of the district auditor.

However, Mr Blair's office has received a wide range of complaints about the running of the local party and the role of the Miners' Community Group, and the party leader is known to be keen to ensure that Labour has a clean image in local government.

Mr Swan welcomed the party's investigation: "I don't suppose they will do anything before the general election, but I hope that afterwards they are going to throw a lot of people out of the party to enable Doncaster to make a fresh start."

Last week, Peter Welsh, the leader of the council, and Ray Stockhill, the deputy leader, stood down form their posts because of the criticisms in the report.