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WESTMINSTER VICTORS FACE APPEAL DANGER

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The two former officers cleared by the High Court of wilful misconduct in the Westminster homes for votes case coul...
The two former officers cleared by the High Court of wilful misconduct in the Westminster homes for votes case could be pursued in the Court of Appeal by district auditor John Magill.

Former housing director Graham England and former managing director Bill Phillips expressed relief and delight at last month's ruling, although both were strongly criticised in the judgment on Westminster City Council's designated council house sales policy.

But Mr Magill and his lawyers are considering whether to seek leave to appeal against the ruling. Such a move could take place on Monday when the court which heard the case is due to reconvene to discuss the position of former Westminster housing officer Paul Hayler, who was too ill to appeal.

News of an appeal bid will dismay Mr England and Mr Phillips, as well as former Westminster housing chair Peter Hartley, who was also cleared of wilful misconduct.

While the trio escaped liability for surcharge in the High Court judgment, former Westminster Conservative leader Dame Shirley Porter and her erstwhile deputy David Weeks face a revised surcharge bill in excess of£27 million.

Dismissing their appeals against charges of wilful misconduct, Lord Justice Rose branded both as liars who had unlawfully sought to gain electoral advantage in key marginal wards through a policy of designated council house sales.

Mr England said he had been vindicated by the decision, but added: 'I have suffered very serious stress and my career has been ruined.' Mr England, who moved jobs to become Westminster's director of external affairs in 1995, was made redundant by the council a week before the judgment was delivered on 19 December.

He said: 'In the civil service or the NHS there is no surcharging and this could not have happened to me. It seems wrong to me that a public servant, going about his duty in good faith, should have been put through this.'

Mr England did not escape criticism in the judgment, which said that by monitoring designated sales in key marginal wards he 'must have appreciated that he was assisting the majority party to pursue its policy of seeking to obtain electoral advantage'.

But the court ruled this did not mean he was guilty of wilful misconduct.

Mr Phillips was also strongly criticised, with the judges taking the view that 'he knew what was proposed would give effect to an improper purpose and he was therefore guilty of misconduct'.

But they concluded he was not advised the proposal was unlawful and so was not guilty of wilful misconduct.

Both Dame Shirley and Mr Weeks will appeal. The appeals will argue it was not wrong for the pair to have political motives when formulating policy.

A spokesman for Dame Shirley said: 'She is disappointed at the verdict but very pleased for the officers who should never have been found guilty in the first place.'

Audit Commission controller Andrew Foster said the commission would consider next month whether it needed to issue fresh guidance to auditors in light of the case.

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