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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
McConnell denies misleading MSPs
First Minister Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell says the claims are untrue
First Minister Jack McConnell has denied accusations that he misled the Scottish Parliament in the row over his local constituency party's accounts.

In a detailed statement, Mr McConnell claimed Scottish National Party suggestions that he misled parliament during Question Time on Thursday were "completely untrue".

Mr McConnell had told MSPs that he first alerted Labour headquarters of a problem with the Motherwell and Wishaw accounts three months ago.

But Scottish National Party leader John Swinney seized on newspaper reports suggesting Mr McConnell was questioned in connection with the accounts seven months ago.

John Swinney: Clear confirmation
John Swinney: Clear confirmation

The latest allegations concern money from the constituency party in Motherwell and Wishaw being used to pay the hotel bill of Mr McConnell's personal assistant.

The money was reportedly used to pay for rooms, for two nights, for himself and his then PA Christina Marshall at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh during the Scottish Labour Party conference in March 2000.

The newspaper said local party officials first approached Mr McConnell about the bill after an annual meeting in February, at which concerns first surfaced about the accounts.

In a letter to Sir David Steel, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Mr McConnell said: "It is unfortunate that Mr Swinney is attempting to confuse a local audit process with a formal investigation by Labour Party HQ in an attempt to mislead the public."

Mr McConnell's detailed account came after three days of controversy over the accounts of his Motherwell and Wishaw constituency office.

Standard practice

Scottish Labour launched an inquiry when it emerged that an activist in the constituency may have used local party funds without authorisation.

It was suggested that there may be an 11,000 black hole in the constituency accounts.

Mr McConnell's letter to Sir David said it was standard practice for all local Labour Party accounts to be audited by volunteer party members on an annual basis.

The auditors should have completed their report in time for the constituency party's annual general meeting in February, but had indicated they were unable to conclude the audit as they had "outstanding questions".

He went on to say that, in July of this year, he became "concerned" that questions asked locally were not being answered.


The audit had still not been concluded, so I raised these concerns with the Scottish Labour Party HQ

Jack McConnell
"The audit had still not been concluded, so I raised these concerns with the Scottish Labour Party HQ.

"My concerns were about the length of time the local audit process was taking, and the lack of communication between the auditor and former treasurer," said Mr McConnell.

He went on: "As a result of further inquiries by Labour Party HQ following my intervention, they announced on Wednesday that they would launch a more detailed investigation.

"Labour Party HQ has indicated that it will publish its report into these matters as soon as possible."

Hard questions

However, Nationalists claimed that Mr McConnell's explanation amounted to "clear confirmation" that he had misled parliament.

Mr Swinney said Mr McConnell had told MSPs on Thursday that auditors had asked questions of the treasurer and the local party, but was now saying an auditor had raised questions with him.

"He deliberately led MSPs to believe that he had initiated the questions over his constituency accounts but has now been forced to admit that he was the one facing the hard questions," claimed Mr Swinney.

"He has also been forced to admit that far from only knowing of this affair for three months, he has known about it as far back as February.

"This confirms beyond all doubt that he was engaged in a deliberate attempt to mislead parliament and mislead the people of Scotland.

See also:

11 Oct 02 | Scotland
10 Oct 02 | Scotland
09 Oct 02 | Scotland
31 Oct 99 | Scotland
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