COUNCILLORS have spoken of their dismay after a breakdown of costs incurred during an investigation into Mike Hancock’s conduct was revealed.
As previously reported, Cllr Hancock is accused of sexually assaulting a woman who went to him for help, and Portsmouth City Council has been investigating whether the claims amount to a breach of its code of conduct.
A hefty £31,736 has been paid out in legal fees by the council since it began its investigation last year, and The News can now lift the lid on exactly where that money has been spent.
A Freedom of Information request shows more than half of the cash was paid to QC Nigel Pascoe so he could investigate the allegations on the council’s behalf and produce a report with his findings – which remains private despite being leaked.
The council’s probe has been suspended until the outcome of a civil case, which could be up to a year away, that the woman has lodged against Cllr Hancock, who is also the MP for Portsmouth South.
Councillor Donna Jones, who has been chairwoman of the panel investigating the matter, said the costs would have been a lot less if Cllr Hancock had participated with Mr Pascoe’s report.
‘This is very disappointing and the external legal costs would have been £5,000 to £6,000 if Mike Hancock had taken part in the investigation,’ she said.
‘If he had met with Mr Pascoe then his colleagues wouldn’t have been asking for second and third opinions.’
But Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the council, said he was ‘absolutely certain’ Cllr Hancock had asked to meet Mr Pascoe on two occasions but was turned down.
This comes despite city solicitor Michael Lawther claiming at a meeting that Cllr Hancock refused to co-operate.
‘I know absolutely that Mike asked to meet Mr Pascoe and Mr Pascoe refused to meet Mike,’ said Cllr Vernon-Jackson.
‘I understand that Mr Pascoe was very expensive. It was something I didn’t get involved with at all.’
The News can also reveal that the full cost could be a lot more because the council has not recorded how much time officers have spent on the investigation.
And more money could end up being splashed out because the council’s investigation has not been completed.
Cllr John Ferrett, Labour group leader, said: ‘It’s an absolute disgrace given the things we need in this city and what we are cutting.
‘I reiterate what I’ve written about to Gerald on two occasions, and that is Mike Hancock should be suspended until this is sorted.
‘It could be over a lot sooner were the report to be published and were Mike to propose that the committee bring forward its process.’
When asked if the council will take any action against Cllr Hancock before legal proceedings are over, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The committee has come to the conclusion that the final bit (of the investigation) should be heard when the court case has been concluded and that up to that point, they will wait.
‘If the court case takes another year then we will wait another year.’
Cllr Hancock has stepped down from the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party while the court action takes place, so that makes him an independent MP.
But he still holds his council cabinet position of head of planning, regeneration and economic development.
Cllr Hancock said: ‘I have nothing to do with it.
‘I can’t comment on something that other people decided they had to do.’
HOW TAXPAYERS’ MONEY WAS USED...
January 2013: Advice in relation to possible adjournment of proceedings – £1,000.
May 2013: Cost of bringing QC Ian Wise from London to Portsmouth to meet sub-committee and give members advice – £4,726.
September 2013: Further legal advice, including conference with QC Elizabeth Lang to advise sub-committee on what action it should take – £2,600.
September 2013: Fee in respect of investigation carried out by QC Nigel Pascoe into the complaint, including cost of report he produced – £18,800.
October 2013: Further legal advice from Ms Lang in relation to whether the sub-committee should put off deciding whether Cllr Hancock broke the council’s code of conduct – £4,610.
Total : £31,736