Vendetta claim over court expenses row

MSP Richard Lyle
MSP Richard Lyle

NORTH Lanarkshire Council is under fire for its handling of court expenses claims made by two of its senior officers.

The authority docked the wages of finance chief Brian Cook and head of legal services June Murray when they gave evidence during a businessman’s debt hearing.

The officers had to claim back the cash - around £400 in total - from businessman Colin Gibson, but he queried the amount.

The council’s lawyer then turned up in court to represent the two officers - at a cost of at least £1,000.

Central Scotland MSP Richard Lyle accused the council of a ‘vendetta’ against Mr Gibson and said it was wrong to spend public money for a solicitor-advocate to attend the expenses hearing while Mr Gibson represented himself.

However, the council said it was simply ‘protecting’ the interests of its staff.

Mr Gibson, from Bothwell, is defending an action at Hamilton Sheriff Court from his former lawyers who claim he owes them £850 for services during a dispute with the council.

Mr Gibson says the firm failed to represent him properly in a council rates case. He claims the council wrongly pursued him for thousands of pounds in rates in relation to a jewellery shop in Airdrie when it should have targeted a firm called Bridge Wynd for the money.

When the hearing began in November, Mr Gibson called the council officials as witnesses. He accused Mr Cook of lying on oath to get a court order which resulted in Mr Gibson handing over thousands of pounds.

Mr Cook, the council’s head of revenue services, denied any wrongdoing.

The council’s conduct has angered Mr Lyle, who was leader of the SNP group on the council before becoming an MSP two years ago.

He said: “In 37 years as a councillor I never knew of the council docking the wages of officials for attending court. It’s highly unusual.”

Mr Lyle is to write to the council to demand a full explanation.

A council spokesman said:“Mr Gibson cited council officers to attend to give evidence in litigation in which one of his former firms of solicitors is pursuing him for fees which he has not paid them.

“Normal procedure is that Mr Gibson, who cited the officers, is liable to pay their expenses as money was deducted from their wages to allow their attendance at court.

“Mr Gibson continues to be unhappy about having had to pay his business rates and the consequences of that process. The council, for its part, will continue to pursue debts lawfully due and to protect officers who go about their duties.”

Full story in this week’s Motherwell Times and Bellshill Speaker, out on Wednesday.