Shirley Porter scandal to be revisited as auditor reports

By Andy McSmith
Sunday 01 February 2004 01:00

The worst local government scandal of modern times will rear its head again this week, with the publication of another official report into the running of Westminster council under the leadership of Dame Shirley Porter.

Lady Porter earned the praise of Margaret Thatcher for saving Westminster from being taken over by Labour at the height of the poll tax riots in 1990. The council has been in Tory hands ever since.

Later, it emerged that she had achieved victory by systematically moving council tenants out of marginal wards and replacing them with homeowners, who were presumed more likely to vote Conservative.

Lady Porter, who now lives in Israel, is still resisting paying the £37m surcharge imposed by the district auditor, John Magill, who investigated the scandal. The Government is also considering taking away the life peerage she was awarded for services to local government

On Tuesday, Mr Magill will report on a series of other allegations made against Lady Porter dating from the same period, including the sensational story that she and other councillors moved council tenants into an asbestos-ridden tower block as part of a political manoeuvre.

This claim has already been examined by an inspector appointed by Westminster council, John Barratt, who accused leading councillors of being so obsessed with a political dispute with a local tenants' group that they ignored the interests of the tenants.

Mr Barratt concluded: "It is abundantly clear that the bad conditions were known to the political decision-makers, and that asbestos was a major factor."

Mr Magill's report will put pressure on the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, to condemn Lady Porter, something no previous Conservative leader has been prepared to do.

Mr Howard's predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith, was a personal friend of Barry Legg, one of the Tory councillors named in Mr Magill's original report, and appointed him chief executive at Conservative head office, but was then forced to withdraw the appointment.

Labour activists in Westminster will also use the report against the present council leader, Simon Milton, who was a councillor in Lady Porter's day.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments