THE cost of an investigation into Portsmouth councillor Mike Hancock has rocketed.
As previously reported, Portsmouth City Council spent £25,000 hiring QC Nigel Pascoe and writing letters to legal parties during the first six months of the probe – and now that figure is expected to rise to £45,000.
On November 15, members of the governance and audit and standards committee will meet to decide whether Cllr Hancock is guilty of breaking the council’s code of conduct.
The council’s investigation began in March.
Mr Pascoe, who has carried out an independent report into the matter, will present his findings and Cllr Hancock will be invited to put forward his case and question witnesses. The latest figure takes into account money spent on getting advice from another QC, who charges £6,000 a day.
She told the sub-committee before its last meeting, which decided there was a case to answer, that it needed to go ahead and ignore Cllr Hancock’s plea for the investigation to be put on hold while a civil case against him is active.
As reported, Cllr Hancock is being investigated by the council over claims he sexually assaulted a female constituent. He is being sued at the High Court by the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and has stepped down from the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party in the meantime.
Cllr Donna Jones, chairwoman of the sub-committee, said: ‘I am appalled at the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been spent. I am glad that the date has now been set and as chairwoman of the committee I want to ensure fairness and a straight-forward process. I want the case being dealt with as quickly as possible without any more taxpayers’ money being wasted.’
The time of the meeting at Portsmouth Guildhall has not been confirmed.
The committee can either decide that Cllr Hancock didn’t break any rules, that he did but no action needs to be taken, or that he is guilty and should be censured. He could be banned from the council’s premises for up to six months or recommending he be removed from council committees.
It could mean he is stripped of his title as cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘What I want to make sure is the process is done right and that the conclusion won’t be open to new challenges by anyone.’
Cllr Hancock said: ‘I wasn’t aware a date had been set.’
Tax campaigners have criticised the amount of cash being used to fund the council’s investigation.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘This lengthy investigation has cost taxpayers a huge amount of money so far. The whole affair must be concluded as swiftly, openly and accurately as possible. Grave concerns remain about this case and delays are not only costing more money but also leave a cloud hanging over Portsmouth City Council.’