Westminster Six battle set for autumn

Roger Pearson reports

Dame Shirley Porter and her former council officers are to appeal the £31.6m surcharge order in October.

A date in October has been scheduled for a hearing in which a £31.6m surcharge on Dame Shirley Porter and five ex-colleagues on Wesminster City Council is to be challenged.

The surcharge order, which has been suspended pending appeal, was imposed on the former Tory council leader and others by district auditor John Magill following allegations that Dame Shirley, two other councillors and three officials were guilty of "disgraceful and improper gerrymandering" between 1987 and 1989.

The accusations formed part of the so-called "homes for votes" affair in which Magill found the Westminster Six had been involved in spending £31.6m on attempting to fix election results in marginal wards by moving council tenants and selling their homes cheaply to people who they thought were more likely to vote Conservative.

In May last year the auditor made the six jointly and severally liable to repay the money.

However, when the case reaches court in the autumn, Dame Shirley's legal team will argue that the auditor's methods of procedure and conclusions were fundamentally flawed and the surcharge – the biggest ever against a local authority – was imposed unfairly.

Dame Shirley, who is represented by Anthony Scrivener QC, has indicated that she wants to submit fresh evidence when the case is heard.

Appealing with Dame Shirley are the former council deputy leader, David Weeks, the former housing committee chairman, Peter Hartley, the former managing director, Bill Phillips and the former director of housing, Graham England. England's former assistant, who is undergoing treatment for depression, has had his appeal stayed.