Former Sunderland City Council chief reportedly arrested in police investigation

Ged Fitzgerald

Ged Fitzgerald

A former Sunderland City Council chief executive has reportedly been arrested as part of a police investigation.

Four leading council figures were quizzed by police after being arrested in swoops by police as part of Lancashire’s long-running One Connect investigation.

It is understood they include Ged Fitzgerald, who was chief executive of Sunderland City Council until leaving in 2008. He is currently Liverpool City Council chief executive, having previously held the same post at Lancashire County Council.

The others are believed to be top Tory councillor Geoff Driver, due to be installed as leader of Lancashire County Council on Thursday, former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall and David McElhinney – who was chief executive of the now defunct One Connect and Liverpool Connect.

The four were being questioned at Skelmersdale Police Station. A spokesman said they had been arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.”

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.

Last March Coun Driver 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.

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.”