Porter condemns 'intolerable' delays in vote-rig inquiry

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JAMES CUSICK

Dame Shirley Porter, the former Conservative leader of Westminster City Council accused in an auditor's report last year of operating a homes- for-votes scheme, has complained that delays in delivering the final report are "unjustifiable" and "intolerable".

In a letter to the Independent, Dame Shirley, leader of the ruling Tory group between 1983 and 1991, claims the "delay" by district auditor John Magill is "unjustifiable and an abuse of the quasi judicial process under which he operates".

She claims not to have heard from Mr Magill since before Christmas and that she, and the eight others effectively accused of gerrymandering in Mr Magill's provisional report in January 1993, have been "left in the dark, our reputations sullied".

The auditor's provisional report identified Dame Shirley and the other councillors and officials as being responsible for the council's "designated sales" policy. Mr Magill recommended that the cost of the allegedly illegal policy, pounds 21.25m, should be recovered by surcharging them.

The three-month process of public hearings held by Mr Magill, which examined the findings of the provisional report, ended on 7 February.Dame Shirley was represented by Anthony Scrivener QC, who questioned and cross-examined those who gave evidence.

Dame Shirley has consistently denied her administration was involved in any illegal policy. At the hearings, Mr Scrivener said Mr Magill had made "unique and surprising conclusions" and that his provisional findings were "at the extreme frontier" of legal interpretation".

In her letter, Dame Shirley says that "18 months ago the auditor sprung his accusations of wilful misconduct on us". However, the first accusations of gerrymandering were levelled by the opposition Labour group more than five years ago.

Following Mr Magill's four-year inquiry and report, the case is fully expected to go to the High Court, then the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords and to the European courts.

However, if the end of Dame Shirley's "ordeal" is simply the publication of Mr Magill's report, his firm, Touche Ross, said all parties have been told that the final report will be out in the first week of September.

In his role as auditor, Mr Magill is prohibited from making any formal statements on what his findings may be.

However, in February, in his closing speech at the hearings,he said he intended to give "careful consideration" to all the evidence that was presented as submissions to the hearing.

Letters, page 16

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