Yet again party forks out large amount of member subs to settle legal action – this time one the party wasn’t even involved in
Next week, unpopular centrist MP Virendra Sharma and controversial Ealing council leader Julian Bell – who has just scraped through a no-confidence vote by fellow councillors – were due to appear in Uxbridge County Court to face a claim by a local venue over an unpaid bill of £5,600. Legal costs had already increased the claim to almost £7,000 by last March.
The pair had tried to have Sharma’s local members pay the bill from their constituency party (CLP) funds, but members refused because they had not asked for members’ approval of the expenditure before incurring it.
But now the case will no longer be heard in court – because the SKWAWKBOX understands that the Labour Party has stepped in to bail out the duo by settling the claim from party funds.
Costs associated with the case had increased in the last six months and the party is understood to have forked out some £15,000 to rescue the pair from the legal action.
Sharma had told his CLP in June 2019 that he knew nothing about the matter and had said the same to the CLP’s auditors. However, in court papers he admitted that he had attended the Aroma Banqueting Suite to make the initial booking and then again to finalise the booking with Bell.
The pair had attempted to claim that Labour’s ‘Local Campaign Forum’ (LCF) had authorised the booking, but Ealing LCF had no record of any such arrangements and issued a statement to the court confirming the same.
Local members say that examination by the party’s auditors showed that Bell had tried to take funds for the bill from Ealing Southall CLP – and that CLP treasurer Ian Kingston issued a cheque to the restaurant for £5,600 at Bell’s request but without permission from the CLP using a chequebook pre-signed by a vulnerable party member who was never told what the cheque had been used for.
The event was supposedly a fundraising social, but the local party has not had an account of what was raised or why there was an attempt to remove money from the CLP without proper authorisation.
Auditors had been told that there would be an investigation by the national party and that the police might be called. Instead, Bell and Sharma’s bill was paid by the Labour party yesterday, including two years’ interest at the court rate as well as court and solicitor fees.
An Ealing Southall member said:
There is clear evidence of serious irregularities that we were informed would be properly investigated. Instead these two are given carte blanche with members’ money. We intend to ask the national party how they can justify this bail out of two men who earn six figure salaries as a good use of members subs.
This is the second time in two months that the Labour Party has paid out thousands of pounds of members’ dues to settle a legal action. In July, the party was heavily criticised for paying around £600,000 to ‘whistleblowers‘ to settle a case Labour’s lawyers said it was likely to win – but this time it has paid out members’ cash to settle a case in which it wasn’t even involved.
Virendra Sharma and Julian Bell were contacted for comment about the settlement but did not respond. In March, they said only that they rejected the claim and could not comment further because of the legal process.
The Labour Party was asked to explain why it has paid out thousands to settle a case brought personally against an MP and a council leader for an unpaid bill. It did not respond.
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