The Westminster Scandal: Critics celebrate auditor's report: The Reaction

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The Independent Online
LABOUR politicians and local people who protested from the start against Westminster's council house sales policy reacted jubilantly to the District Auditor's report.

In sharp contrast, Conservative reaction was muted, many Tories saying that it was premature to comment on the report. But Patricia Kirwan, who as chairwoman of Westminster's housing committee during the late 1980s was a key figure in the controversy, said: 'The report is devastating - far more so than I had ever contemplated.'

She said that the homes sales policy was wrong for four reasons. It was publicly and morally indefensible, financially incorrect, politically unsound and unlawful. 'That is why I spoke out against it originally and why, in September 1989, I resigned from the council, thus ending my political career.'

Ms Kirwan's change of heart came after a seminar for Conservative councillors in September 1986, when she presented a paper entitled Westminster's Housing 1986-90.

This paper said that the aim was 'to ensure that, as far as possible, Westminster's housing policies achieve the type of social and economic residential mix that will enable us to retain control of the council in 1990 and help to retain the Conservative majority in the parliamentary seat of North Westminster'.

Peter Bradley, deputy leader of the council's Labour group, said: 'People are becoming complacent. It is something to do with the overweening arrogance of power . . . They don't know the limits of authority that they hold in trust - they confuse their own personal and party political interests with those of the public.'

Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said: 'This exposes political corruption on a scale unknown in post-war Britain. It is the stuff of banana republics. Responsibility for this goes right to the top of the Tory party who lauded Shirley Porter and colleagues in 1990, and ever since.'

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' local government spokesman, said: 'This report goes to the very heart of Conservative corruption. The named councillors squandered over pounds 20m. They should pay it back and it should be ploughed back into the community.'

Dr Richard Stone, a local GP who was the first objector to the house sales scheme, said: 'At last justice has been done as far as all these people who were obviously doing wrong. I feel desperate that people who were all in housing need are still in need. Because of this policy people are still homeless.'

However, Roger Gale, Conservative MP for Thanet North, said: 'Those involved have not had the opportunity to comment on, or challenge, the findings of the District Auditor so it would be premature to comment further.'

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