Dorset

Ex-Dorset County Council leader Spencer Flower guilty of conflict of interest

Spencer Flower outside court with wife Toni Coombs
Image caption Spencer Flower spoke outside court alongside his wife Toni Coombs

A former leader of Dorset County Council has become the first person to be prosecuted under a new law aimed at giving communities more power.

Spencer Flower claimed his involvement with a social housing company was not relevant to a debate in 2013 over the future of housing in east Dorset.

But he was found guilty of voting illegally as the firm could have benefitted from the plan being passed.

The Conservative councillor, 72, will be allowed to remain in public office.

Flower, of Verwood, Dorset, was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £930 costs.

A district judge at Bournemouth Magistrates' Court ruled he had broken laws under the Localism Act 2011.

Stood aside

Speaking outside court, Flower refused to comment on his political future.

He said: "I am surprised and disappointed that the court has found for the prosecution this morning on a technicality.

"The decision was a conditional discharge for six months - the lowest possible penalty.

"The court emphasised the total lack of any personal gain or intent on my part."

Flower, who is also an East Dorset councillor, voted in February 2013 on East Dorset's core strategy while non-executive director of charitable social housing company Synergy Housing Ltd, for which he received an annual allowance of about £5,000.

The vote concerned whether the strategy for the area should be referred to the secretary of state for approval.

He declared his interest in the charity prior to the meeting, but was found guilty of taking part in the vote "without reasonable excuse" despite his pecuniary interest.

The core strategy included plans for redevelopment in Wimborne and, although no planning permission had been submitted, it was thought some of Synergy's social housing could be improved by developers Wyatt.

Flower was charged in November and stood aside as leader of Dorset County Council to fight the charges.

Two other charges of failing to disclose an interest in Zebra Property Solutions Ltd to East Dorset Council and to Dorset County Council between 1 July 2012 and 6 March 2013, had previously been dropped.

A spokesman for Christchurch Borough Council and East Dorset District Council said Flower continues to remain a member of East Dorset District Council.

"Nominations for the forthcoming local elections are still open, therefore we do not yet know whether Councillor Flower intends to stand again."

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