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Essex: County council recommended not to pursue Lord Hanningfield for expenses claims

Lord Hanningfield leaving Chelmsford Crown Court where he stood trial for fiddling his House of Lords expenses.

Lord Hanningfield leaving Chelmsford Crown Court where he stood trial for fiddling his House of Lords expenses.

The Essex County Council audit committee has recommended the authority shelves plans to claim back £50,000 from former leader Lord Hanningfield.

County Hall, ChelmsfordCounty Hall, Chelmsford

Lord Hanningfield was leader at County Hall from May 2000 until February 2010, when he stepped down after a criminal investigation into his expenses at the House of Lords.

He was found guilty and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment on those charges in the summer of 2011.

But a separate investigation into almost £288,000 he claimed in council expenses and spent on council credit cards in the last five years he was leader was dropped in November 2012 by Essex Police, the City of London Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, who said there was insufficent evidence to charge the disgraced peer.

Since then Essex County Council (ECC) has been considering whether it should take its own legal action against Lord Hanningfield and sue him for money it considers he incorrectly claimed.

However following legal advice the council’s audit committee has today recommended plans to pursue Lord Hanningfield, real name Paul White, for almost £50,000 be dropped.

Councillor Susan Barker, chairman of the audit committee, said: “Terry Osborne, director of corporate law and assurance, advised that the costs of pursuing this case would be significant, with uncertain chances of success.

“She advised that in addition to the significant cost, the council would also have to invest further considerable officer time trying to prepare for and pursue the case, with unlikely prospects of success.

“It is with huge regret that, having taken account of the legal advice and the advice of our external auditors, we feel we have no alternative but to recommend that no further action be taken in this matter.”

Council leader David Finch has the final decision on whether to launch legal proceedings, and he told councillors today he intended to make a decision within one week.

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