Westminster auditor is accused of bias: 'Council homes for votes' case defendants say investigator who announced interim guilt cannot be open-minded at public inquiry

THE WESTMINSTER district auditor, James Magill, was accused yesterday of breaching every code and precedent of local government when he announced an interim finding of guilt against 10 councillors and officials accused of spending pounds 21m of council money to gain votes for the Conservatives.

Anthony Scrivener QC, arguing on behalf of the former council leader, Dame Shirley Porter, the current leader, Miles Young, Barry Legg, now a Conservative MP, and the other accused, said that Mr Magill would not be able to appear to be open-minded when he hears the evidence at a public inquiry this month.

Yesterday, at Westminster Town Hall in central London, in an obscure procedure never used before, Mr Magill presided over a hearing to consider whether he should disqualify himself from the inquiry.

One of the councillors committed suicide shortly after Mr Magill's interim findings. If the other people are ultimately found guilty of wilful misconduct by selling council houses to gain votes at the expense of the homeless, they are personally liable to pay the pounds 21m, and may be disqualified from public office.

Mr Magill, a senior partner in accountants Touche Ross, called the controversial press conference on 13 January after an inquiry lasting four and a half years. 'My provisional view is that the council was involved in gerrymandering,' he said. He had used the words 'improper' and 'disgraceful' to describe what had gone on, language more appropriate to an Old Bailey judge passing sentence, Mr Scrivener said.

The summary of his report issued to the media had included a section Mr Scrivener described as 'self-laudatory', describing the work as unprecedentedly thorough. He had piled papers on his desk in front of television cameras to give the impression there was a strong case. He told Mr Magill the press conference and publication of interim findings were 'not only inappropriate, but it makes it difficult ever to withdraw those views. If you attempt to withdraw those views, you will look extremely foolish.

That is why judges and DTI inspectors eschew ever taking public views before the conclusion of a case'.

An audit of a council was a quasi-judicial procedure, Mr Scrivener argued, like a court, and like an inquiry into alleged insider trading by a Department of Trade and Industry inspector. In each case there was a presumption of innocence and the burden of proof lay with the prosecution.

He quoted the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who had commented after the auditor's press conference that it would be unthinkable for a judge to say after hearing the prosecution in a criminal trial that he was inclined to find the defendant guilty, but he would now hear the defence.

The Code of Auditing Practice stipulated the inquiries should be taken in confidence, and the 1982 Local Government Act said auditors should follow the code.

Mr Scrivener handed in a file of newspaper cuttings and played TV news bulletins to demonstrate that the auditor's report and remarks had been widely interpreted as an indication of guilt.

Mr Magill said he would give his decision next week.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform