Porter hands over £12m to end 'homes for votes' scandal

The Westminster "homes for votes" scandal came to a long-overdue conclusion yesterday when it emerged that Dame Shirley Porter, the council's former Tory leader, had handed over £12.3m to settle the affair.

The Westminster "homes for votes" scandal came to a long-overdue conclusion yesterday when it emerged that Dame Shirley Porter, the council's former Tory leader, had handed over £12.3m to settle the affair.

After 15 years of wrangling, Dame Shirley, who had earlier insisted she could not afford to pay up millions of pounds, finally paid the money into a bank account for her role in the gerrymandering.

Hundreds of people were moved into cockroach-infested and asbestos-ridden tower blocks as a result of Westminster Council's policies, so that 500 good-quality council properties could be sold to people more likely to vote Conservative.

A seven-year inquiry found her guilty of wrongdoing during the affair designed to boost the Tories' electoral prospects. But it took years of battling in the courts to try to obtain £42m in surcharges from Dame Shirley, 73, to pay back the council the cost of her policies.

Westminster council froze £35m in trusts linked to Dame Shirley, a Tesco heiress, and her family. But it faced court cases as far afield as Israel, Guernsey and the British Virgin islands to obtain the cash, which was held in various offshore accounts and family trusts.

Yesterday the council said it had reached a final settlement with Dame Shirley, who is now free to return to Britain from her home in Israel, to draw a line under the affair.

On 1 July she wired over £12.3m in cash to Westminster Council's bank account.

"We wanted to get the best final result for Westminster and its residents that we could," said Kit Malthouse, the council's deputy leader. "As far as I am concerned this can be filed, archived and forgotten."

But yesterday Peter Bradley, Labour MP for the Wrekin, expressed fury that Dame Shirley had been "let off the hook". He accused the council of settling for far too little cash and said they should have pursued her for the full £42m in surcharges, including costs, interest and legal fees.

Critics have also alleged that Dame Shirley's fortune is far larger than she has claimed and may even total £24m.

But the settlement will mean that she can no longer be pursued in the courts for cash.

"This is £30m short. This is not a tariff, it was the auditors' assessment of the loss to the council tax payer of her unlawful policies. Westminster Council have allowed themselves to be ripped off on the public's behalf," said Mr Bradley.

Around £7m of the cash will be invested in new social housing, including building new council homes. Around £1m of the money would be passed on to the Audit Commission to cover its expenses in fighting the case to the House of Lords, while the rest would be used to reimburse the council tax payer.

In 1987 the Tory-controlled council decided to sell 500 homes a year under a policy called "building stable communities". The aim of the policy was to try to ensure that the Tories retained Westminster, held up by Mararet Thatcher as a Conservative flagship council, at the 1990 election and avoided embarrassing the government.

HOW THE SCANDAL UNFOLDED

May 1986: The Tory majority on Westminster council falls from 26 to 4.

July 1987: Council's housing committee votes to sell 500 council homes a year to designated tenants in a policy called "building stable communities."

1987-1989: Council offers properties for sale in eight marginal wards at below market price to tenants likely to vote Tory. Council moves voters likely to back Labour into less marginal areas and stops homeless families moving into the targeted properties.

May 1996: District auditor John Magill finds Dame Shirley guilty of "disgraceful gerrymandering". She and her deputy, David Weeks, are liable for repaying £36.1m.

December 1997: High Court overturns Dame Shirley's initial appeal.

May 1999: Appeal Court says politicians may pursue policies and make "voter-pleasing decisions" to their party's advantage. They clear Dame Shirley and Mr Meeks.

December 2001: Mr Magill takes the case to the law lords, who unanimously find in his favour. One of the judges, Lord Bingham, says: "This was a blatant and dishonest misuse of power."

April 2002: Dame Shirley attempts to fight the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights.

September: She misses the deadline for payment.

November 2003: Court orders freeze £30m of assets in Guernsey - with which Dame Shirley denied any connection - and elsewhere.

July 2004: Dame Shirley wires £12.3m to Westminster council in full and final settlement.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Life and Style
A general view during the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on 2 December, 2014 in London, England
fashionIt's not all about the catwalks: the big changes of the past year can be summed up in six clothing items
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?