UPDATE: Four leading council figures arrested

County Hall at Preston
County Hall at Preston

Four leading council figures have been arrested in swoops by police as part of Lancashire’s long-running One Connect investigation.

One is believed to be top Tory councillor Geoff Driver, who is due to be installed as leader of Lancashire County Council on Thursday.

The other three are understood to be former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall, David McElhinney – who was chief executive of the now defunct One Connect and its sister organisation Liverpool Connect – and Ged Fitzgerald the current Liverpool City Council chief executive and former Lancashire County Council chief executive.

The four are currently being questioned at Skelmersdale Police Station.

A police spokesman said they had been arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.”

Officers said men aged 72, 55, 58 and 56 were arrested at addresses in Preston and on Merseyside.

They were held on suspicion of consipracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.

The others were thought to be former Lancashire County Council chief executive Phil Halsall, David McElhinney, who was One Connect chief executive and Ged Fitzgerald, the current chief executive of Liverpool City Council and a former chief executive of Lancashire County Council.

The arrests were made early on Monday and the men were taken to Skelmersdale Police Station for questioning.

A police statement said: “Four men have been arrested in connection with an investigation into conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

“The men, aged 72, 55, 58 and 56 were arrested at addresses in Preston and Merseyside.

“The arrests are part of a wider long-running investigation into allegations of fraud, although none of these men have been arrested on suspicion of fraud.”

Coun Driver, 72, who lives in Fulwood, was leader of Lancashire County Council when the partnership between One Connect Limited and telecom giant BT was set up in 2011 to run several of the authority’s services and save the authority around £400m over 10 years.

By August 2013 Mr Halsall, 58, was suspended and eventually left his £190,000-plus job as LCC chief executive “by mutual consent.”

Salary payments to Mr McElhinney of more than £500,000 were the subject of a council investigation and a complaint to the police in 2013.

One Connect was scrapped in 2014 and the police have spent the past three years embroiled in a “complex” investigation into allegations of financial irregularities.

In February 2015 officers raided three homes – one in Fulwood and the others in Southport and Knowsley.

Councillor Driver has always denied any wrongdoing, and last March announced he was taking legal advice after a Lancashire Police told him he was no longer a suspect.

“They are satisfied I am entirely innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said at the time.

Later he called for the resignation of Lancashire’s Chief Constable after it was revealed the cost of the three-year investigation was approaching £2m.

Lancashire County Council refused to comment on the matter last night, or what it might mean for Thursday’s full council meeting at which Coun Driver is expected to be elected leader of the newly-elected Conservative administration.

Liverpool City Council issued a statement saying: “We do not comment on personnel matters relating to individual employees.”