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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK

UK Politics

Steely will of a Tory tiger

Dame Shirley: Appealed successfully in the courts

Dame Shirley Porter, who has appealed successfully against paying a multi-million pound surcharge in the homes for votes scandal, was one of Margaret Thatcher's best known standard bearers throughout the 1980s.

The former Westminster City Council leader who was cleared by the courts of "'wilful misconduct" was described during her time as a council chief as "Thatcher writ large" - a description she relished.

[ image: John Magill: Investigated Dame Shirley for seven years]
John Magill: Investigated Dame Shirley for seven years
Even before the attention created by the homes for votes scandal Dame Shirley had a high media profile.

Her uncompromising and occasionally eccentric brand of politics meant she was never long out of the public's gaze.

While launching a blitz against litter she once dressed up as a Red Indian squaw and chased up and down Westminster's streets urging people not to drop litter.

Her keen eye for publicity once saw her lead a camel to County Hall, London, headquarters of the now defunct Greater London Council - then headed by Labour MP Ken Livingstone - to protest over high rate precepts which said were capable of breaking the camel's back.

[ image: The selling off of council houses was at the centre of the scandal]
The selling off of council houses was at the centre of the scandal
But her judgement was called into question when she sold three publically owned cemeteries to property speculators for 15p.

They were subsequently resold for £1.2m.

Dame Shirley was born in 1930 in Clapton East London, the daughter of a Jewish grocer, Jack Cohen, who went on to build the Tesco supermarket chain on the "pile it high, sell it cheap" philosophy.

Now she is a Tesco heiress and worth a reputed £20m.

Dame Shirley and her husband, Sir Leslie, moved from the UK to Israel in 1994.

And last February she astonished her friends by turning her back on the Tories, saying she no longer sees a place for herself in a party set against European integration.

She even went as far as to praise the prime minister: "I think Blair's a very clever fellow. New Labour's party management is terrific.

"I like the razzmatazz and sense of fun and excitement they engender," she said.

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