In a high risk gamble, Paul Rowen bet the farm on silencing the Guardian Media Group by threatening a libel action. It worked, sort of. The Rochdale Observer pulled web version of the original article and Paul's spin doctor, Dave Hennigan, drafted a front page grovelling apology.
The funny farm was safe- for a while. But have the chickens now come home to roost?
A few months after the Lib Dem "correction" on the front page of the Ob, Paul Sacked Dave Hennigan. The devil is in the detail of Paul Rowen's principled stance on Parliamentary expenses. Is it a pack of lies? Will the house of cards collapse on proper inspection?
As RAW revealed yesterday, Paul Rowen claims public money for his constiuency office "142a Drake Street". The invoices come on Rochdale Liberal Democrat headed paper. The landlord is described as "Rochdale Reform". The full title of the owner of both 144 and 142a Drake Street is Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited. (RRBL)
How has Paul Rowen and the Rochdale Liberal Democrats described this company?
To find this out, the same grovelling apology that the Rochdale Observer was forced to print is most revealing. Is Paul Rowen damned by the very words penned for him by David Hennigan?
Under the headline " I have always striven to put Rochdale first" Paul Rowen explained his:
"...Drake Street offices, while part-owned by the Lib Dems, are paid for at a market rate"
"The rules for this are clear. It must be a fair market rent determined by an independent surveyor. That was what I did."
The article was concluded with the following apology:
"The Rochdale Observer would like to make it clear it has no information that Paul Rowen MP was using parliamentary expenses to fund Liberal Democrat political activities and apologises if any reader got that impression."
To recap, Paul Rowen says his constituency office is "part-owned" by the Lib Dems, his parliamentary expense claim is based on a "fair market rent" determined by an "independent surveyor" .
So who are the directors and shareholders of Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited- the recipients of Paul Rowen's Parliamentary expenses cash for constiuency office space?
The 2009 list of Directors and shareholders is most revealing...
The Company Secretary is VIVIAN COBURN (Cllr Alan Taylor's partner). The register of members is lodged at the Coburn/Taylor family home.
The first director listed is BRIAN ASHWORTH (former councillor and President of Rochdale Lib Dems) Brian is current the Chairman of LINK4LIFE trust- Rochdale Council's controversial leisure and culture qualgo, registered as the Rochdale Boroughwide Cultural Trust.
The other 3 listed directors are:
NORMAN SMITH and...
So the directors or "contolling mind" of RRRL are all senior Rochdale Lib Dems.
But who owns RRRL, who are the shareholders and recipients of any profits, from, say, lucrative rental agreements paid for from Paul Rowen's Parliamentary expenses?
Remember, Paul Rowen's explanation was that his constituency office was "part owned" by "the Lib Dems"
According to the 2009 records, Rochdale Reform Building Shareholders on 31/10/2008 were as follows:
The largest single holding by an individual is CYRIL SMITH with a 183 Ordinary shares in the company.
The TRUSTEE OF ROCHDALE LIBERAL CLUB holds 108 shares.
The largest holding was of shares is with the TRUSTEES OF ROCHDALE REFORM ASSOCIATION with 1445 shares.
Cllr ALAN TAYLOR holds 25 shares, partner and Compaby Secretary VIVIAN COBURN holds 5. Sarah Taylor holds 10 shares.
So the vast majority of ths shareholding looks very Liberal Democrat in pursuasion. Is Paul Rowen's phrase "part owned" by the Lib Dems starting to look rather suspect?
The other shareholders listed on the public register are:
Edgar Todd, 10 shares
Donald Woolfenden, 24 shares
Alan Whitehead, 24 shares
Annie Bulcock (exec of Law Bulcockannie), 24 shares
Executors of Alfred Berry, 24 shares
M Kendal, 10 shares
Alan Mills, 24 shares
Executors of James Quinlan, 24 shares
Stuart Dunbar, 24 shares
Leonard Holt, 35 shares,
Walter Ridgeway, 24 shares
F. Howarth, 24 shares
T. Fletcher (executors), 25 shares
W.Holt (executors), 25 shares
Kathleen Wilson, 24 shares
Rodney Stott, 8 shares
Charles Hudson, 24 shares
Gladys Crossley, 24 shares
Anne Ewing Crossley 24 shares
Keith Hibbert Crossley 24 shares.
Hang on a minute, didn't Paul Rowen say that his parliamentary expense claim for his constiuency office was based on a "fair market rent" determined by an "independent surveyor"
Who was the "independent surveyor" who set the "fair market rent"?
In May 2009 Paul Rowen said it was "local estate agent Andrew Crossley"
Crossley's Estate Agents are a well known, and respected, local firm. They are a well known, and respected, local family.
Was Paul Rowen specifically refering to Andrew Crossley in person, as the surveyor who independently set the fair market rent? This is dancing on a pinhead but important.
Their website is clear:
"Crossley's are the leading family firm of independent Rochdale Estate Agents and Chartered Surveyors"...
"The company has been trading since 1926 and looks forward to the challenges of the new century. Crossley's has a wealth of experience within the Rochdale housing market and is almost a 'family-friend' of some local folk!"
The company now registered as G. Crossley & Son Ltd was incorporated in 2006. Andrew Crossley holds the single share issued for the company. There was an earlier G. Crossley Limited but that was dissolved in 1995. All this said, as their website rightly says, the Crossleys are a very respected family whose business connections as estate agents and surveyors in Rochdale are well established.
Their website gives specific detail to the family business relationships:
"Andrew's father, Keith Crossley, is still employed by the company as a consultant Chartered Surveyor. Andrew's mother, Anne Crossley, retired in 1996 after over 20 years as "general factotum" and Company Secretary!"
Has Paul Rowen landed himself in an awkward situation with the wording of the apology he made the Rochdale Observer publish?
Along with Cyril Smith and other prominent Lib Dems, Keith and Anne Crossley are shareholders of Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited.
The website of the Crossley family company, trading as Crossley Estates, describes Keith Crossley as still employed by the company as a Chartered Surveyor.
Paul Rowen said a "fair rent" determined by an "independent surveyor" is paid to a company that is "part owned" by the Lib Dems.
Some of the cash in the trail comes full circle when viewing Rochdale Lib Dem's Register of Donations with the Electoral Commission:
In October 2005 Rochdale Reform Buildings Ltd donated £1793 to Rochdale Lib Dems.
All these claims must be investigated.
The public have a right to know where THEIR money has gone.
The Rochdale Observer were forced to publish an apology that does not appear to be supported by the facts.
If rules have been broken or there is any question of wrong-doing then Paul Rowen, Rochdale Lib Dems and Rochdale Reform Buildings Ltd must account for this and pay back public money.
If a correction is needed, there must be a full explanation to the Rochdale Observer AND the readers of the Rochdale Observer in the same manner the "apology" was published -
ON THE FRONT PAGE.
Legally and morally, Rochdale tax payers and voters must know the the full facts about Paul Rowen's constituency office expense claims and ALL sources of money to Rochdale Lib Dems.