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EDITIONS
 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 20:21 GMT
Ex-council boss cleared of fraud
Frank McKenna (left) and John Fillis outside Chester Crown Court
Mr McKenna (left) wants a full inquiry into the case
An election fraud case against a former senior Lancashire politician has collapsed.

Frank McKenna was facing a trial for allegedly exceeding his campaign expenses limits in the run up to the 1997 general election.

However, at Chester Crown Court on Monday, the judge threw out the case because he did not think Mr McKenna - an ex-council deputy leader - and ex-councillor John Fillis would get a fair trial.

Judge Roger Dutton made his comments after defence barristers alleged Labour group infighting at the council had led to the case being brought in the first place.

I don't believe that unless new evidence is forthcoming we should undertake another investigation

Kevin Lee, North West Labour Party
On Monday Judge Dutton said the courts are not an "appropriate forum" for resolving political grievances in the West Lancashire Labour Party.

The case was brought after Mr McKenna, of Field View Lane, Skelmersdale, and Mr Fillis, of Southport Road, Ormskirk, were charged with conspiracy to defraud and making a false declaration.

They both operated as election agents in the constituency for the general election.

During the case Mr McKenna was forced to resign as leader of the North West Assembly and withdraw as leader-elect of Lancashire County Council.

3m investigation

The police investigation took six years and reportedly cost 3m.

After the case collapsed Mr McKenna called for an investigation by the county council Labour group.

He told BBC North West Tonight: "This whole investigation was about whether the Labour Party produced too many leaflets during the 1997 election campaign.

'Full inquiry'

"So I think if 3m was spent by police and other authorities in trying to prove this...it is in the public interest that an inquiry takes place."

The North West Labour Party's Kevin Lee said the party was not going to carry out a further internal inquiry into the actions of Labour in west Lancashire unless there was fresh evidence.

"We conducted a full, in-depth inquiry in 2001 into a number of allegations made. That was reported to the party with certain recommendations," he said.

"I don't believe that unless new evidence is forthcoming we should undertake another investigation."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jim Hancock
"Factions had begun to form in the local party"

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