LETTER:Facts behind the `homes for votes'
Monday 13 March 1995
Sir: In her letter of 8 March, Dame Shirley Porter gives a partial account of the evidence given by Robert Lewis, the former Westminster deputy city solicitor, at the appointed auditors' hearing into the "homes for votes" allegations. It is very important your readers should not be confused about the central issues in this affair.
In his evidence Mr Lewis told the enquiry that, if council properties were selected for inclusion in Westminster's designated sales scheme in order to achieve electoral advantage, that would conflict with the legal advice he gave Conservative councillors. He also said that it would have been unlawful for the Conservatives to have targeted 250 sales a year in marginal wards and that Jeremy Sullivan, QC, had advised that it would be an unlawful act to select any property for sale by reference to the fact that it was in a marginal ward.
In his provisional findings of fact, reached after an exhaustive four- and-a-half year enquiry, well over 100 interviews and the collection of tens of thousands of pages of documentary evidence, John Magill concluded that properties had indeed been selected for sale because they were in marginal wards and in order to achieve electoral advantage - directly contrary to Mr Lewis's advice and that of Mr Sullivan.
In his provisional findings Mr Magill also concluded that Shirley Porter was one of a group of leading councillors who devised a policy to achieve electoral advantage for the Conservative Party in eight marginal wards, including a programme of increased designated sales in marginal wards, and that without her promotion and support there would have been no proposal put to the Housing Committee for such a programme.
The real issue in this case is whether or not Mr Magill's findings of fact on these points are correct. The suggestion that there could have been legal advice from leading barristers that such conduct was legitimate is, to use Mr Sullivan's own words in evidence to the enquiry, "manifestly absurd".
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