Westminster Tories 'corrupted officers': Council regime accused of deceit and deception as public hearing into 'gerrymandering' claim opens. Stephen Ward reports

DAME SHIRLEY Porter's Conservative regime at Westminster Council corrupted officers and bribed voters, the public hearing into a 'gerrymandering' policy was told yesterday.

Dame Shirley sat behind her lawyers at the council chamber in Marylebone, central London, as Andrew Arden QC, for the Labour councillors and others who complained to the District Auditor over the policies, told the first day of the hearing: 'The party of law and order seems to have become the party of deceit and deception.'

He said that the case was about the arrogance of power. Normally council officials would check the abuse of power, making sure rules were obeyed. In this case the elected council leaders had pushed further, 'far past any defensible conduct'.

As she arrived by taxi, Dame Shirley was jostled by a crowd of about 40 protesters, some with placards reminding her of the cemetries the council had sold for 15p. She paused briefly to speak on the steps: 'Let me say I have been coming to this council house for 20 years and served on the council. I have done nothing wrong. If you listened to all the shouting and screaming, you must ask yourself 'why do the people feel like this'. It is because we have been judged guilty before the inquiry. I ask all people to hear what is said at the hearing.'

She left after less than two hours, and has not yet said whether she intends to give evidence in person and submit to cross-examination later in the hearing.

In January, the District Auditor, John Magill, issued provisional findings that Dame Shirley and the other nine who were councillors or officials between 1986 and 1990 were guilty of unlawful 'gerrymandering' policies costing local taxpayers pounds 21m.

He said that after nearly losing the 1986 local elecion, the ruling group had unlawfully housed the homeless in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, while selling council houses to potential Tory voters in key marginal wards.

One of the ten, 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.

Earlier this week Mr Magill, a partner in the accountants Touche Ross, rejected submissions from Dame Shirley's counsel, Anthony Scrivener QC, that he was not fit to act as judge over the public hearings because his interim report had demonstrated that his mind was already made up. Dame Shirley responded with a statement that she would challenge his ruling in the courts at the end of the complex hearings. They are expected to last at least six weeks, and may continue well into 1995.

Mr Arden said: 'We are talking about gerrymandering. In a nutshell, bribery of the electorate and corruption by officers for political and personal gain.' He accused the council of routine deception, concealment and diversion of assets to an illegal end.

The auditor's costs have already passed pounds 1.2m, to be paid by Westminster taxpayers.

Mr Arden will continue his submissions today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss