Council inquiry 'hindered': Ex-leader of council 'hindering inquiry'

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DAME SHIRLEY PORTER, the former leader of Westminster City Council, was accused yesterday of deliberately hindering the district auditor's inquiry into her alleged political gerrymandering.

Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, has tabled two Commons motions on the lack of progress of the inquiry into claims that Conservatives on the council, led by Dame Shirley, sold council homes to potential Tory voters before the 1990 local elections.

The Tories, who also included David Weeks, another former council leader, Barry Legg, now the MP for Milton Keynes South West, and Bill Phillips, former head of Dame Shirley's policy unit, are accused of wasting pounds 10m of council funds.

Mr Straw set out a list of missed deadlines since John Magill, the District Auditor, first indicated he would issue his provisional findings by 31 March 1993. That date has now become January 1994.

The repeated postponements, Mr Straw claimed, were caused by Dame Shirley and Mr Weeks having 'a deliberate strategy . . . to cause as much hindrance to the District Auditor as they can'. Their aim, he said, was to hold up oral hearings into the report until after the local elections in May next year. Mr Magill's task, Mr Straw alleged, had also been made more difficult by the shredding of documents.

Dame Shirley was abroad yesterday and could not be reached for comment.