Fraud inquiry at Tory council

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The Independent Online
A TORY council is being investigated by the police after allegations of corruption said to involve hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Independent has learnt that the inquiry by Thames Valley Police's Fraud Investigation Branch is focusing on the relationship between a Tory councillor and a local businessman, and is examining claims that the local authority - South Oxfordshire District Council - tried to cover up the allegations.

The disclosure is bound to further embarrass the Tories in the wake of the District Auditor's report into Westminster City Council, London. It comes the day after the Independent and Computer Weekly revealed that South Oxfordshire, which has been cited by ministers as an exemplary Tory administration, had awarded a computer contract to one of its staff in breach of European law on open tendering and after suspending its own standing orders.

The fraud investigation is understood to centre on allegations that a councillor had a financial relationship with a local businessman which he did not declare, in breach of local government law. The councillor has admitted that he had a commercial interest in common with the businessman, but denied that this affected his judgement, or that there was anything illegal about it.

Det Sgt Andy King said yesterday: 'We have received a complaint regarding some irregularities at South Oxfordshire District Council. Our inquiries have only just started.'

The inquiry is thought to be examining allegations that the council attempted to cover up the claims. One local resident has claimed that the council told him the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided to take no action over the allegations, implying there had been an investigation.

It later transpired that the DPP had no knowledge of any allegations regarding corruption at the council. Robin Hooper, the council's solicitor, conceded that it was possible there had been a misunderstanding, but insisted the authority had at all times acted properly.