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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 16:11 GMT
Dame ordered to pay 27m
Shirley Porter
Dame Shirley wanted a majority in the 1990 elections
A former leader of a London council has been ordered to pay a 27m surcharge over the "homes for votes" scandal of the late 1980s.

Dame Shirley Porter, the former Westminster Council leader, and her former deputy, David Weeks, were cleared in May 1999 by the Court of Appeal for willful misconduct and "improper gerrymandering" by selling off council homes.

They had been selling them to possible Tory voters in marginal wards to try to boost the party's election prospects.

An appeal by district auditor John Magill was allowed to go ahead and five Law Lords ordered the pair to repay the losses claimed by the council.

I am not corrupt. I did not abuse power

Dame Shirley Porter
Lord Bingham said: "The passage of time and the familiarity of the accusations made against them cannot and should not obscure the unpalatable truth that this was a deliberate, blatant and dishonest misuse of public power.

"It was a misuse of power by both of them, not for the purpose of financial gain, but for that of electoral advantage. In that sense it was corrupt."

Lord Scott said Dame Shirley and Mr Weeks "stand convicted of political corruption" on the basis of undisputed facts.

Alan Langleben, Dame Shirley's solicitor, said she would fight the ruling in the European courts.

'Not justice'

A statement from his client said: "I am not corrupt. I did not abuse power.

"This is not justice. This case has always hinged on whether I took and followed legal advice.

"The Court of Appeal decided that I had. The House of Lords judgment on this point is not even consistent.

"Everyone agrees that I stole no money and I made no personal gain.

"Six hundred Westminster families were helped to buy their own homes for which the council received 42m.

District Auditor John Magill
District Auditor John Magill: Led battle
"It is utterly unfair that I alone among all local authority leaders should be singled out and ordered to pay 26m for promoting the right to buy."

In 1987 the Conservative majority on Westminster Council had been reduced from 26 to four.

Dame Shirley was determined to achieve a majority in the 1990 elections.

In July of the same year the council's housing committee decided to sell 500 homes a year under a sales policy called "building stable communities".

'Unearthed truth'

Under the 1985 Housing Act it was allowed to dispose of its property to promote any public purpose, apart from to give a political party an electoral advantage.

Both Dame Shirley and Mr Weeks accepted they knew the council could not use its powers in this way and it became clear that they acted in a way they knew to be unlawful.

Mr Magill, who has led a 12-year battle to make Dame Shirley pay, said: "I am, of course, delighted that the House of Lords has confirmed the decision of the High Court.

"Both courts unanimously concluded that the facts that I unearthed were the truth and that Dame Shirley Porter and David Weeks had lied to me in attempting to cover up their activities."

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See also:

30 Apr 99 | UK Politics
Steely will of a Tory tiger
27 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Porter appeal judgement delayed
22 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Porter 'will clear name'
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