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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 20:51 GMT
McLeish's wife seeks legal advice
Henry and Julie McLeish
Mr and Mrs McLeish leave parliament after his resignation
The wife of former First Minister Henry McLeish has voiced outrage at suggestions she may have acted improperly in her dealings with a charity linked to her husband's political downfall.

Julie McLeish could face disciplinary action for her role in funding the Third Age charity.

She is named in Fife Council's internal investigation into the Officegate controversy which ended Mr McLeish's tenure in the post.

Mrs McLeish, a social work manager, is one of several senior staff who approved payments to the Third Age charity after it was wound up.

I have concerns about the content of the report and have been left with no option but to put the matter in the hands of my lawyers

Julie McLeish
However, in a statement issued on Thursday she said she would be placing the matter in the hands of her lawyers.

"I am outraged at any suggestion that I might have acted improperly," she said.

"I have concerns about the content of the report and have been left with no option but to put the matter in the hands of my lawyers."

Her husband resigned as first minister in November amid controversy over a sub-let of his constituency office in Glenrothes to Third Age, which worked with the elderly.

A leaked copy of the council report blames local authority staff for allowing the Third Age Group to claim grants for two years after it was wound up.

'Crossover' claim

The report also raises concerns about "substantial crossover" between Labour Party members, charity workers and social workers, prompting allegations of cronyism from opposition parties.

It makes clear that Mrs McLeish was present when councillors rubber-stamped the grants.

Fife Council chief executive Douglas Sinclair said in the report it was unacceptable that elected members were not informed about this.

He recommends further reports which could lead to disciplinary action against a string of officials, which may include Mrs McLeish.

She is currently on sick leave and declined to be interviewed for the inquiry.

Tricia Marwick MSP
Tricia Marwick: "Christine May must go"
However, in her statement Mrs McLeish said the social work department had stepped in to retain the service when the management committee folded due to a lack of volunteers.

"The council's own report concludes that the funding paid to the Third Age Group was not used for anything other than the purpose for which the group was established," she said.

The report is due to be officially released on Friday.

Speaking on BBC Scotland's Holyrood Live programme on Thursday, Mr Sinclair said he had been misled by a number of officers when he prepared an earlier report on the affair.

"They misled me in terms of, firstly, the contact they had in relation to Mr McLeish about the lease of office accommodation and secondly about the involvement of a manager in the Third Age project," he said.

Deaf ears

The inquiry has also led to opposition calls for a parliamentary investigation into cronyism

However, Scottish National Party MSP Tricia Marwick's call for Fife Council leader Christine May to resign has fallen on deaf ears.

Ms Marwick said: "The political head of Fife Council, Christine May, who has been in charge throughout this period from 1995 until today, has got to carry the ultimate responsibility.

"The grants were paid to an organisation that didn't exist, documents were shredded at the time that she was the leader of the council.

"She should go, she should put in her resignation, because the buck stops with her."

I see my job as leader of Fife Council as putting right what has gone wrong

Christine May
Fife Council
But Ms May defended herself and refused to comment in detail on the leaked report, which is due to be published officially on Friday.

She said: "It is obvious that something has gone wrong in the operation of the Third Age Group - and I see my job as leader of Fife Council as putting right what has gone wrong."

Tory local government spokesman Keith Harding said the leaked report pointed to a "network of patronage and cronyism" within the Labour-controlled council.

He said: "Nobody doubts the value of the work done by the genuinely independent voluntary sector in Scotland.

"However, we do need to shine a spotlight on the relationship between councils and those organisations within the voluntary sector which are effectively wholly-funded public agencies."

Political correspondent Glenn Campbell reports
"All those named and blamed could be punished"
Tricia Marwick, MSP
"She should go, she should put in her resignation"
See also:

06 Mar 02 | Scotland
Officegate charity report leaked
31 Jan 02 | Scotland
Auditor probes Officegate row
08 Nov 01 | Scotland
Constituency stunned by resignation
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Q&A: Officegate
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