LETTER:Intolerable Westminster delay

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The Independent Online
From Dame Shirley Porter

Sir: It is nearly six months since the last of the accountancy evidence was submitted by the defendants objecting to the Westminster auditor's provisional, but highly publicised, view that we were guilty of costing the city council pounds 21m. Yet, still, we have not heard when Mr Magill will respond to anything we said to him before Christmas. Such a delay, without explanation or apology, is unjustifiable and an abuse of the quasi-judicial process under which he operates.

The defendants are left in the dark, our reputations constantly sullied, and we have no idea when the auditor will next appear on television to say something more about our case, almost certainly without giving us the chance to defend ourselves.

Although the auditor is charging Westminster residents pounds 275 per hour, it is apparently taking him longer to look at some narrow accountancy issues in a local authority than it takes many of his colleagues to audit the books of some of Britain's household name companies.

For years, the defendants have been accused of delaying tactics in the Westminster case, allegations which have always been entirely unjustified. Now it ought to be obvious to everyone that the delays are solely the responsibility of the auditor, no one else.

We are in an impossible position. Eighteen months ago, the auditor sprung his accusations of wilful misconduct on us. Last autumn, we submitted evidence from three leading City firms of accountants disputing his methods and conclusions. He has never allowed our witnesses to question him about his views. We have no idea what he thinks or why.

It is intolerable that this case is allowed to drag on without the defendants having any idea when their ordeal is going to end.

Yours faithfully,

Shirley Porter

London, SW1

27 June

The writer was leader of Westminster City Council, 1983-91.

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