Leading Tory quits over ‘gifts’ probe
Westminster Council leader says Robert Davis ‘breached the code of conduct’ after investigation into gifts and hospitality received from developers and powerful businessmen
12 October, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Robert Davis, who served Westminster for 36 years, registered 530 gifts over three years
WESTMINSTER’S longest-serving councillor sensationally quit the council this week after an independent investigation into lavish gifts and hospitality from developers and powerful businessmen.
Barrister Sir Stephen Lamport QC’s probe into 530 gifts and hospitality registered by Robert Davis over three years was published last night (Thursday) in an in-depth 108-page report.
The councillor had served Westminster for 36 years and in 2015 was recognised with an MBE for services to local government and planning.]
He resigned on Wednesday insisting he had “nothing to hide” and rejecting accusations of damaging the reputation of the council or breaching standards.
But the council’s leader, Nickie Aiken, said her former planning chief and political ally had made the “right decision” saying “it is clear from the report that Cllr Davis breached the code of conduct”.
Under council rules any gifts and hospitality packages costing more than £25 have to be declared, and Mr Davis’s register includes trips to Switzerland, Spain, France, the US, and the five-star Gleneagles resort.
In September 2017 the Westminster Extra ran an article about Westminster councillors’ gifts and hospitality, drawing attention to the frequency of Cllr Davis’s lunch dates.
The “Wealth of lunch dates for councillors” article detailed meetings between Cllr Davis and Canary Wharf chief executive Sir George Iacobescu, gambling website entrepreneur Noel Hayden, the sixth wealthiest person in Hong Kong Michael Kadoorie, and Travelex currency exchange philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman, among others. There was no accusation of wrongdoing or suggestion that Cllr Davis had breached any regulations.
Robert Davis in fancy-dress with council leader Nickie Aiken at the New Year’s Day Parade
The QC’s investigation report says Cllr Davis’s statement said that “councillors and officers knew about the hospitality he was receiving and yet until September 2017 no one inside or outside the council raised any issues.”
It adds: “On 14 September 2017 the monitoring officer met with Cllr Davis, at his request, when Cllr Davis wanted to discuss a press article and asked whether he was over-declaring certain matters. The monitoring officer advised that he was… At that meeting the monitoring officer stressed again that complaints and adverse press comments would continue unless he cuts down the number of gifts and hospitality, significantly.”
The report concluded: “I am satisfied that Cllr Davis was given advice which he did not heed until after September 2017.”
Labour sent out a press release weeks later that was picked up by the Guardian newspaper that conducted an investigation, publishing in February for the first time the full extent of gifts over three years.
At that time Cllr Davis referred himself to the council’s monitoring officer and “stepped aside” pending the investigation.
In May he stood to be re-elected and was returned to the Lancaster Gate ward with a majority of around 300 votes.
Cllr Davis has throughout maintained he had acted with “probity” and had fallen victim to being too honest in his declarations. Entries to the council’s gifts and hospitality register have, since the uproar, dwindled, raising questions of whether councillors are now too fearful to publicly state who they are meeting and what they have received.
The investigation report said: “The instances where Cllr Davis has accepted gifts and hospitality from developers/agents before or after planning decisions does not itself evidence any inappropriate conduct by Cllr Davis… However, it also does not rule out a conclusion that he has placed himself in a position where people might seek to influence him in the performance of his duties.”
The report lists six cases where the receipt of gifts or hospitality “could be perceived as seeking to influence the planning decision-making process or to reward instances where applications had been granted when officers had recommended refusal”.
The list included “lunch with Andrew Lloyd Webber at his home in Mallorca” one year after consent for an application from Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Group company was granted against planning officers’ recommendations.
The report says, in its final conclusion, that Mr Davis, a lawyer, believes that the report “contains significant factual and legal errors”.
It adds that he wanted to state that he “does not recall ever being advised by anyone that he was accepting too much hospitality” before September 2017 and “he does not believe that he mistakenly failed to declare 85 items” and that if this did happen it was “an administrative error made by the council”.
Cllr Davis was the longest-serving councillor at Westminster after 36 years dating back to the 1980s and the era of Dame Shirley Porter.
In a statement sent to the Extra, Mr Davis said: “My approach to declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide. An inquiry has been completed by the council. They have confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful.
“However, they have concluded my actions nevertheless created a perception that was negative to the council. While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter. It is now time for me to move on to the next stage in my life and for the next generation of councillors to lead Westminster.”
Leader Cllr Aiken said: “I believe Cllr Robert Davis has made the right decision to step down. Our residents rightly expect the highest standards of those in public office. It is clear from the report that Cllr Davis breached the code of conduct.”
The investigation’s findings…
• Cllr Davis had registered his gifts and hospitality appropriately, had not done anything unlawful and there was no evidence of “inappropriate conduct”.
• But he may have placed himself in a position where developers and people “might seek to influence him”.
• Cllr Davis’s actions had not “promoted and supported high standards of conduct through leadership and by example”.
• His conduct has attracted media and public attention which has an impact on the council as a whole.
• Cllr Davis should be referred to the standards committee.