Wait for justice goes on for Lancashire quartet - four years after their arrest

A probe into the conduct of four leading council figures in Lancashire is still showing no sign of concluding more than four years after the men were arrested.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 10:51 am
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 10:52 am
Geoff Driver wants an end to the wait for justice.

Former County Hall leader Geoff Driver and three others are still waiting for the results of the Operation Sheridan investigation into the ill-fated One Connect deal, even though it is three years this month since Lancashire Police handed over a dossier to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Driver, 76, who retired from politics earlier this year after 20 years as a councillor, told the Post in May: “I’m entirely innocent of what the police have accused me of and it’s time it was brought to a conclusion - one way or the other.”

But the wait goes on, with a CPS spokesperson telling the Post: “This case is being reviewed by the CPS Specialist Fraud Division and no decisions have been reached on charging yet.”

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The four who were arrested: (l-r) Geoff Driver, Phil Halsall, Ged Fitzgerald and David McElhinney.

Lancashire Police added: “Sheridan remains an active investigation involving serious allegations and is pending a decision from the CPS as to whether or not current suspects will be charged with one or more criminal offences.”

The arrests of Mr Driver, former LCC chief executives Phil Halsall and Ged Fitzgerald and former One Connect chief executive David McElhinney in May 2017 followed a three-year police inquiry.

At the time the four were detained “on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.”

They were on police bail until August last year when it was announced their status was being reduced to that of “under investigation.”

Hundreds of staff from County Hall were seconded to work for One Connect.

The case dates back to 2013 when police were alerted to concerns there may have been some financial irregularities in the running of the One Connect partnership between LCC and telecom giants BT, set up in 2011 in a bid to save the county council around £400m over a 10-year period.

The organisation, of which LCC had a 40 per cent share, took over the running of various County Hall functions, but ran into trouble with a reported £10.4m overspend in its first year.

It was scrapped in 2014, two months after detectives swooped on three homes on Merseyside and in Fulwood.

The police investigation has been a complex and costly one, with the bill already approaching £2m in January 2017. At that time there were said to be 22 officers and staff working on the case.

But since the force handed over the dossier to the CPS for consideration in August 2018 the One Connect saga has gone quiet - apart from Mr Driver announcing in November last year that he was planning to sue the CPS for disclosing publicly that it was weighing up whether to charge him.

Lawyers representing the former Preston district councillor have accused the agency of failing to safeguard his data protection rights and his expectation of privacy.

Following the four men’s arrest in May 2017 Mr Driver spent several hours being questioned at Skelmersdale Police Station before being bailed. The arrest came more than a year after police had informed him that he was no longer under investigation as part of the wider One Connect probe.

The former high-ranking council officer turned politician has steadfastly pleaded his innocence on all matters connected with Operation Sheridan.

TIMELINE

2011 - Lancashire County Council formed One Connect in partnership with telecom giant BT hoping to save £400m over 10 years by running various County Hall services. It had 800 staff seconded from LCC and BT.

2013 - the police were alerted to concerns about possible financial irregularities.

2014 - LCC pulled the plug, citing a £10.4m overspend in the first year.

January 2017 - the investigation was said to have cost almost £2m, with 22 police officers and staff working on it.

November 2017 - the four men were arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.”

August 2018 - police handed a dossier on Operation Sheridan to the Crown Prosecution Service, who are still considering it.