AN MP has called for a public inquiry into what went on at County Hall during Lord Hanningfield’s ten-year reign.
Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, says the public has a right to know who knew what and when, as allegations continue to emerge about the disgraced peer’s use of his Essex County Council credit card.
Mr Russell also questioned whether the council had covered up its concerns as Essex Police were not told about possible wrongdoing over Lord Hanningfield’s County Hall expenses, discovered in 2007, until it emerged at his trial this year.
Lord Hanningfield – real name Paul White – is serving nine months in jail after being convicted of six counts of fiddling his House of Lords expenses to the value of £14,000.
Mr Russell said: “There should be an inquiry into Lord Hanningfield’s stewardship of Essex County Council throughout his ten years, alongside the police investigation.
“I find it totally unbelievable that people at County Hall, including members and senior officers, were not aware of what Lord Hanningfield was doing.
“I became aware a year or so ago that three years ago somebody very close to Lord Hanningfield’s inner circle had sent letters to some councillors and the chief executive citing concerns.
“If we had never had the House of Lords investigation, does anyone have any confidence Essex County Council would have called in Essex Police at this stage? Once it was heard from the dock what the Metropolitan Police had uncovered, and once evidence had been given in open court, Essex County Council had its cover blown.”
Current council leader Peter Martin has said the council was restricted from revealing its concerns and investigations while the Metropolitan Police carried out its work, for fear of prejudicing the House of Lords case. But Mr Russell added: “I do not find that a convincing argument.
“I have never heard it said that because the police are investigating one matter, they will not investigate a second or separate matter. That is not a view I think the general public have.”
It was revealed earlier this week that internal audits in 2007 showed a lack of receipts for purchases on White’s corporate credit card. It also emerged he was spending about £5,200 a month on it and could sign off his own expenses.