PracticeAuditWestminster city council saga ends with little

Westminster city council saga ends with little

It's now 14 years since complaints about gerrymandering at Westminster city council were first lodged with district auditor John Magill. And hopes that last week's European Court of Justice verdict marks the end of this tortuous saga are sadly misplaced.

In a judgement published last week, the court ruled that the rights of former council leader Dame Shirley Porter were not breached by what has, by any account, been an extraordinary legal process.

Magill himself spent £3m in investigating the claims that the council’s controversial designated housing sales policy was illegal. He conducted more than 130 interviews with 44 people. All told, the proceedings took 12 years and five months. Westminster council meanwhile has spent £400,000 chasing the £37m surcharge imposed on Dame Shirley and another former council leader David Weeks.

Dame Shirley’s bone of contention all the way along has been that she was wronged by Magill.

Magill, she has argued, acted as policeman, judge and jury in the process and compromised himself by revealing ‘provisional’ findings before he had completed his investigations.

The court of justice rejected this, declaring unanimously, that her application was inadmissible.

But will all this lead where it should lead? Will Dame Shirley pay the surcharge imposed on her and Weeks? The Audit Commission solicitor who has advised District Audit throughout – Tony Child of Rowe and Maw – welcomed last week’s decision. On the other hand, Westminster council described the verdict as ‘largely academic’. It added: ‘We will continue to take all reasonable steps to recover this money and hope that the European verdict will persuade Dame Shirley that she should now settle this long-outstanding debt.’

But that seems unlikely. In 2001, the council obtained a freezing order against Dame Shirley’s assets worldwide, and she was subsequently required to disclose their worth, amounting to approximately £300,000. It was a surprisingly small amount for a Tesco heiress once worth millions.

And as the court itself noted in last week’s judgment: ‘Given that the applicant is now living out of the country and has failed to comply with the orders issued against her, the court would note that it appears the applicant has no intention of paying the surcharge, or any part of it, in any event.’

Related Articles

PwC replaces EY as Domino's auditor

Audit PwC replaces EY as Domino's auditor

3d Alia Shoaib, Reporter
The ‘uncomfortable truth’ behind FRC’s Big Four fines recommendations

Audit The ‘uncomfortable truth’ behind FRC’s Big Four fines recommendations

1w Carl Johnson, Stephensons
BDO holds off Big Four to retain top position as AIM auditor

Audit BDO holds off Big Four to retain top position as AIM auditor

1w Alia Shoaib, Reporter
FRC urged to fine Big Four firms penalties over £10m

Audit FRC urged to fine Big Four firms penalties over £10m

3w Alia Shoaib, Reporter
EY to audit Standard Chartered bank

Audit EY to audit Standard Chartered bank

1m Alia Shoaib, Reporter
KPMG replaces PwC as Croda auditor

Accounting Firms KPMG replaces PwC as Croda auditor

2m Emma Smith, Managing Editor
EY fined £1.8m over Tech Data audit

Accounting Standards EY fined £1.8m over Tech Data audit

2m Emma Smith, Managing Editor
Top 50+50: Firms post significant growth in new tax and audit rankings

Audit Top 50+50: Firms post significant growth in new tax and audit rankings

2m Emma Smith, Managing Editor