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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 16:06 GMT
Action starts over Dame's 27m bill
Shirley Porter
Dame Shirley has missed the payment deadline
Solicitors have begun legal action to recover the 27m surcharge imposed on the former council leader Dame Shirley Porter.

The House of Lords ruled Westminster City Council was owed the money after the "homes for votes" scandal of the late 1980s.

Dame Shirley was given a deadline of 1400 GMT on Thursday to make the payment.

She has asked for the deadline to be extended until January but the council has refused.

Colin Wilson
Colin Wilson: " Steps to secure recovery"

Dame Shirley and her former deputy David Weeks were branded corrupt by the House of Lords for selling council houses to possible Conservative voters in marginal wards to boost the party's election prospects.

They were both cleared in May 1999 by the Court of Appeal for willful misconduct and "improper gerrymandering" by selling off the council homes.

But an appeal by district auditor John Magill was allowed to go ahead and five Law Lords ordered the pair to repay the 27m losses claimed by the council.

We will be taking all practical steps to achieve this

Westminster City Council
A council spokesman said on Friday: "We have today put into effect an action plan to recover the surcharge the House of Lords ruled is owed to the Council by former councillors Dame Shirley Porter and David Weeks.

"The 14-day period for recovery of the money has passed, and the surcharge is still outstanding.

"We will now take the appropriate legal steps to recoup the money.

"We have instructed a specialist firm of City solicitors, Stephenson Harwood, to assist in collecting the payment.

"We will be taking all practical steps to achieve this.

"A budget has been set aside to enable recovery processes to be undertaken."

'Not justice'

In 1999, Dame Shirley's solicitor Alan Langleben said she would fight the ruling in the European courts.

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."

Deadline expired

Dame Shirley now lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A spokesman for the Tesco heiress said she had won more time to settle the surcharge.

He claimed a High Court order was made on 21 December delaying any further discussion of the matter until 18 January.

However, Westminster City Council insists the deadline for payment has expired.

Dame Shirley's personal fortune is estimated at 70m.

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See also:

13 Dec 01 | England
Dame ordered to pay 27m
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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