Westminster audit to cost taxpayers pounds 1.8m

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COUNCIL taxpayers in Westminster could face a pounds 1.8m bill from the District Auditor for his investigations into gerrymandering by Dame Shirley Porter, the former Conservative leader, and nine colleagues, writes Stephen Ward.

The District Auditor, John Magill, a partner at City accountants Touche Ross, has been investigating allegations that the council tried to gain votes by selling homes to potential Tory voters, and to shift the homeless out of the borough.

Mr Magill will hear more representations today from Dame Shirley, calling upon him to disqualify himself from the public inquiry into the allegations -due to start this morning. The costs to the council in fees to Touche Ross are already estimated at pounds 1.5m and are likely to rise by another pounds 200,000-300,000 by the end of the hearings - if they take place.

In January, Mr Magill issued provisional findings that Dame Shirley and the other nine, who were councillors or officials between 1986 and 1990, were guilty of unlawful policies costing pounds 21m to local taxpayers. One of the 10, Dr Michael Dutt, committed suicide soon after the report. The other nine face disqualification from public office or being held personally liable for the alleged loss.

Mr Magill declared in January that the councillors and officials had been guilty of 'disgraceful, improper and unlawful' conduct.