Wigan Council is in the clear from allegations of misusing public money when settling the legal bills from a high-profile court case.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has confirmed it is not taking any further action in relation to a report made suggesting there may have been misappropriation of public funds by the local authority.
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The flashpoint hinged on the use of taxpayers’ cash to settle the legal bill for returning officer Donna Hall, who was also chief executive at the town hall at the time, when she and the council lost a case at Manchester Civil Justice Centre over Coun Steve Jones having a by-election called for his Bryn seat when he had not actually resigned as an elected representative.
The police were asked to look into whether it was appropriate for the council to use public money for the legal costs of the case rather than Ms Hall settling the bill as an individual.
Having considered the matter, GMP has concluded there is no case to answer and is dropping the matter.
Wigan Council, though, has immediately gone on the attack, describing the decision to involve the police and make the accusation as “malicious”.
And Hindley Green independent representative Coun Bob Brierley, who reported the issue, says the police answer is unsatisfactory.
A GMP spokesperson said: “The allegation has now been reviewed and it has now been determined that there is no evidence of criminality in respect of this allegation and the matter has now been concluded.”
The decision came just over a week after the initial allegation was made to police on Monday, June 17.
Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “Wigan Council welcomes this outcome and can only apologise to GMP who have had to use their limited resources to investigate yet another malicious complaint.
“Sadly, this is just the latest example of how public bodies including Wigan Council have had to redirect their resources that could be used for residents and to fund vital services.
“We would like to confirm that Wigan Council is not under investigation for this complaint, nor any others which have and continue to be submitted by a couple of individuals on a regular basis.”
However, Coun Brierley has vowed to fight on. He said: “We’re not accepting this decision. We’ve asked to see the evidence and we think we’re entitled to it because this is public money.
“This is serious and we have a duty to represent the people of Wigan.
“We have questions about this. We are waiting for a reply and then we are going to the Professional Standards Branch.”
The Wigan Observer has seen an email from a senior council officer which says the town hall, along with other local authorities, “indemnifies its officers in connection with the performance off their functions, including those of the Returning Officer, which is...a role to which appointment is made by the council.”
That, the email continues, made the council paying the returning officer’s costs in the case “entirely appropriate”.
The case quashing the Bryn by-election was heard in the High Court of Justice in February last year.