Councillor facing huge surcharge bill found dead: Fellow Tories believe former Westminster housing chairman accused in report on alleged gerrymandering committed suicide

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the 10 Westminster City councillors and officials facing a pounds 21m surcharge over allegations of gerrymandering has apparently killed himself, after announcing that he could not afford to mount a legal defence.

Police said last night that Dr Michael Dutt, a former housing committee chairman, died from gunshot wounds but no one else was being sought in connection with his death. Fellow Conservatives believe that he committed suicide after being 'pilloried' in the light of a district auditor's report that accused six councillors and four council officials of wilful misconduct.

Last night, Patrick Evershed, vice-chairman of the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Association, said: 'Michael Dutt and the other people accused have been pilloried in the media by the publication of the district auditor's report, but they have not been allowed to release other documents they believed would prove their innocence. He publicly denied the charges against him, but he would have been ruined by the costs of defending himself. If you drive a man to despair in this way, something like this is bound to happen.'

Dr Dutt, 43, a councillor between 1986 and 1990, was found alone in his flat at St Albans, Hertfordshire, on Wednesday night. It is understood that he had been absent for two days from his practice in Knightsbridge, and from St Albans and Hemel Hempstead Hospital, where he specialised in medicine for the elderly.

One fellow Tory, who asked not to be named, said that she understood documents relating to the Westminster gerrymandering affair were found by his side.

Dr Dutt, along with Dame Shirley Porter, the former council leader, Barry Legg, who subsequently became a Conservative MP, and seven others, was accused of mounting an allegedly illegal campaign to empty council houses in marginal wards and sell them to potential Conservative voters.

Last week, in an open letter to John Magill, the District Auditor, he wrote: 'There are a number of falsehoods and twisted interpretations in what you say. I had no interest and was not influenced by considerations of gerrymandering at any time . . . although I believe the High Court would reverse your findings, this together with hearings in the (Court of) Appeal and Lords would last several years and consume resources and energy I do not have, while attempting to conduct my medical work.'

Last night, Mr Magill said: 'Any news like this is extremely tragic.'

Simon Milton, the deputy leader of Westminster City Council, said he was appalled by Dr Dutt's death. 'We have to question a system of local government inspection which can allow the production of the most damaging report in the most lurid language before it has gone to court and then claim it is only a 'provisional' report, allowing it to be widely repeated by the media. We also have to question a system that can allow loyal, hard-working public servants to live with the threat of being professionally and financially ruined by enormous surcharges,' he added.

Another Conservative said Dr Dutt had been depressed by the possibility of being surcharged.

Paul Dimoldenberg, former leader of the Labour group on the council, said: 'This is dreadful news. Dr Dutt was a quiet person but, politically, he was highly intelligent and enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of debate.'

Hertfordshire Police said that the coroner had been informed and an inquest would be held on Monday.

(Photograph omitted)