The Mirror writes "in 2010 ... attempts to suspend Lilley were blocked by regional party officials during a period of political infighting." I wasn't in the party when this was happening. But my understanding was that Lilley had not produced the books for inspection by the constituency for a period of time, a situation compounded by his avoidance of party meetings. Understandably the then executive had concerns and had notified the city party organisation (now Local Campaign Forum) and the regional office. At this point there was no evidence of wrongdoing. However, events have a habit of shaking up politics and so it was with Stoke Central CLP. Against the backdrop of leading party members - practically the entire executive - playing crucial roles in campaigning for the unseating of an elected Labour mayor, in the space of a mid-March weekend the party was placed into special measures by the NEC and incumbent MP Mark Fisher announced his retirement a month-and-a-half before the general election. Of course, some might want to attribute sinister and cynical motives to the regional party apparatus failure to pursue Andy Lilley then, but more reasonable people could conclude that organising a last minute candidacy, handling the administration that comes with a constituency party suspension and the small matter of overseeing a large election campaign across the West Midlands were monopolising their time.
I first met Andy Lilley after the election. Tristram Hunt was the new MP and the 'old guard' had resigned. Lilley chaired the first meeting of the CLP and was re-elected the constituency treasurer. It also appeared the previous executive had nothing to be worried about - in 2010 and 2011 the constituency finances were audited again by members chosen at those years' AGMs. Money in the ledger Lilley kept matched the money in and out recorded by the bank statements (I saw these as I was the CLP secretary 2011-13). It all appeared above board.
Then, at the 2012 AGM, he was voted out of office. There followed a substantial delay of months before the books were handed over to the new treasurer and the auditors could take a look at them. We met about this time last year in a pub with the auditors, and there was a discrepancy. Money known to be paid in had not appeared in the accounts. Pending further investigations, the auditors did not sign them off. About a month later on a Saturday morning, we were called to an emergency executive meeting at the campaign officer's house. The treasurer had produced a fully itemised statement from the bank that showed the incomings and outgoings, which clearly didn't match with what was in the ledger. But what about the banks statements seen in previous audits? Then came the real bombshell. They were fake. Coming to light after he scanned copies of the old statements and sent them to the bank, what we and auditors had previously seen were quite convincing mock ups. They looked like the real thing with the exception of two details - the reference numbers on them were false, and its design was a few years out of date. But unless you have an eye for that sort of thing, you never would have guessed. And so it turned out the bank account, which we were led to believe was in a low but workable state was empty and in front of us we had evidence that our former treasurer had been forging documentation. What could you do? I remember my jaw hitting the floor and laughing. In short order the treasurer spoke to the regional office and both went to the police. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Irony of ironies, it was around the time his wrongdoing was coming to light that Lilley resigned from Labour for "principled" anti-cuts reasons. He made a big play of not wanting to attack the labour movement, but thought nothing of splashing thousands of its pounds on ridiculous watches, expensive champagne and large tables at the Lord Mayor's charity do.
So let there be no doubt at all. There was no blocked investigation. No cynical shafting of Lilley when he ceased being "useful". There was never any conspiracy. There was one man who, whatever his excuse, helped himself to at least £10k of party funds. He troughed on money raised from campaigning and the donations of ordinary working people who believe Labour can make a difference. Lilley didn't steal from a faceless institution. He took cash off me, off the executive he worked with, off the activists and CLP regulars, off affiliated trade unions, off our phalanx of members in their 90s and the youngest comrades who've not long joined and, worst of all, his own wife. It's right he's doing bird for it. And it's right that the nonsense surrounding this case be put to bed.