Panel votes not to investigate gerrymandering allegations against leader of Havering Council

Serious allegations made against the leader of Havering Council will not be investigated because they are too old, a panel has decided.

It was alleged leader Damian White (Con, Squirrels Heath) manipulated plans for new ward boundaries to benefit his party in the next local election.

The accusations were based on a leaked recording from a private Conservative meeting held in February.

A panel from the council’s adjudication and review committee met in private on Thursday October 15 to discuss whether the matter should be investigated further.

The decision not to investigate was passed by two votes to one. The decision cannot be appealed.

According to a Havering Council spokesperson, the panel voted to dismiss because the complaint was only made three months after the meeting.

The panel was made up of Cllr Matt Sutton (Con), Cllr Ray Best (Con) and Cllr Linda Van den Hende (Upminster & Cranham Residents’ Group).

It was not confirmed how councillors voted.

A previous meeting on the same matter on October 1 was adjourned after a previous member, Cllr Timothy Ryan (Con), asked to be excused due to a conflict of interest.

Responding to the decision, leader Cllr White said: “The council’s adjudication and review committee has made a decision on this issue and as far as I am concerned the matter is closed.

“I am far more focused on ensuring that Havering Council protects lives and livelihoods as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

“Residents can be confident that the electoral boundaries for the borough are set not by any councillor or council officer but by an independent panel of experts.”

A transcript of the leaked recording submitted to the panel alleges Cllr White said initial proposals for new ward boundaries would mean Conservatives “would never ever win ever again”.

The transcript reads: “We’ve come up with a set of proposals that I think are really politically advantageous for us… We’ll be maximising our councillors in the areas we can win.”

He is recorded to have said the proposals would “break up the south of the borough” so Conservatives “can then pick the best bits and target them”.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter