Watchdog was misled by Gorman

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The Independent Online
TERESA GORMAN misled the Parliamentary standards watchdog when she declared that tenants of two bed-sit properties she owned in south London lived there rent-free, The Independent has learned.

Two former tenants are to give evidence to an inquiry by Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, that they paid rent to the Billericay MP and her husband Jim. Mrs Gorman had told The Independent that no rent was paid by anyone living in her properties.

Last night she conceded that some "informal" payments may have been made. And it became clear yesterday that Mrs Gorman and her husband owned a third south London property in which they had tenants, which also was not declared.

Ms Filkin is investigating Mrs Gorman's failure to list her properties in the Commons Register of Members' Interests. It is the second time the MP has been investigated by Ms Filkin. Last month she was forced to apologise to MPs for failing to register business interests.

Mrs Gorman has told Ms Filkin that she did not receive income from either of the two bed-sit properties. She said a house in Norwood was used by her business and one in Streatham was purely for her own residential purposes, though employees occasionally lived in both houses rent-free.

But a couple who lived in Hopton Road, Streatham from 1991 until 1993 say they paid pounds 80 per week rent, usually in cash, to Mrs Gorman's husband Jim. Mr Gorman made contact with them after they had placed an advertisement in Loot. looking for accommodation.

A former tenant of 279, Church Road, Norwood, says she, too, paid rent. None of the three people worked for the couple. The Church Road tenant also revealed she had lived briefly in number 281 next door, which was divided into flats and which was owned by the Gormans. It was sold in 1989 to Partingdale Holdings, an offshore company which also bought number 279 Church Road in 1994.

The Hopton Road property was also sold in 1994, to a separate offshore company called Loxhill Investments, which had the same firm of London solicitors and the same Guernsey address as Partingdale Holdings. A neighbour in Hopton Road has told Ms Filkin that when the house was sold again in 1998, the Gormans spent two days there clearing out furniture. Mrs Gorman told The Independent they were removing tools her husband had left behind four years earlier.

Mrs Gorman has said that she had no beneficial interest in either of the offshore companies, nor did she know who owned them. It was "a coincidence" that the estate agent for both sales was Vivian Bendall, a former Conservative MP and colleague of Mrs Gorman.

Last night Mrs Gorman, through her solicitors, conceded that some "informal" payments may have been made to her husband, but she had never personally received rent. She confirmed that she had also owned the second house in Church Road, Norwood, but stressed that she thought she did not need to declare the three houses because they were part of her business, which she had declared.

The MP has a town house in Lord North Street, Westminster, and a converted farmhouse in Orsett, Essex, but these are not part of the investigation.