Westminster city council saga ends with little

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.’

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