Concerns over the need for costly QC in Hancock probe

PROBE  Concerns have been raised into the cost of a report into Mike Hancock's behaviour
PROBE Concerns have been raised into the cost of a report into Mike Hancock's behaviour
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QUESTIONS have been raised over whether an independent legal advisor should have been hired to carry out an investigation into Mike Hancock’s conduct.

As previously reported, Portsmouth City Council paid Nigel Pascoe QC £18,800 to investigate whether the Fratton councillor sexually assaulted a woman and if the claims amounted to a breach of its code of conduct.

Yet at the same time, the council has its own legal advisor, city solicitor Michael Lawther.

His pay band is between £99,000 and £109,430 a year, and some feel the job or writing the report should have come under his remit.

Cllr Luke Stubbs, deputy Conservative group leader, said: ‘Many members of the council have complaints made against them and all of them have been dealt with internally.

‘I don’t know who made the decision to go with a QC at such a high cost.

‘I appreciate this was an important complaint against a high-profile member of the council that would have warranted a top investigation but whether it was necessary to spend all this money I am not so sure.’

As previously reported, a Freedom of Information request revealed £31,736 has been spent on the investigation – which hasn’t finished yet because the council won’t make a final decision until a civil case lodged against Cllr Hancock by his alleged victim is finished.

Labour group leader John Ferrett said that while hiring an outsider was responsible, he appreciated people would be frustrated given the amount Mr Lawther earns.

‘I can fully understand that if we have a very expensive legal officer being employed by the council then we should expect him to be providing legal advice.

‘But I can also understand there may be cases which requires specialist knowledge of a subject matter.

‘We can all agree that this case is extraordinary in terms of complaints against councillors.’

David Williams, the council’s chief executive, said: ‘In what was always likely to be a high-profile and sensitive case, it was important that the person appointed to conduct the investigation not only had the right legal expertise and experience but was also completely independent of the council and would be recognised to be so by the interested parties and the public.’

FRIEND OF ALLEGED VICTIM SAYS MONEY WAS WASTED

A FRIEND of the woman who claims Mike Hancock sexually assaulted her says the money spent on QC Nigel Pascoe would have been worth it if the council hadn’t then sought other advice.

He said: ‘It beggars belief that the council decided to take second and third legal opinions.

‘Nigel Pascoe said Mr Hancock wouldn’t co-operate and for Hancock to then say that isn’t true is nonsense.

‘The actual amount the council paid for Mr Pascoe was dubious to say the least but then that is what a QC costs.’