13 October 2002: The Red Rose Dinner Affair
The night was wearing on and Scotland’s most powerful politicians and their supporters were chewing on cigars, sipping brandy and enjoying Andy Cameron’s stream of couthy jokes. Cameron probably didn’t know the one about the ministers, the millionaires and the soon-to-be-murdered. But this was a reasonable description of the latest Lanarkshire Labour powerplay taking place before his eyes. The guests had gathered at the tranquil setting of Motherwell’s Dalziel Park Country Club on a Friday night in March 2002 to drink, dine and sign cheques for the Labour party and other charitable causes.
The annual Red Rose dinner in Jack McConnell’s constituency, which typically raised around £7k, was a chance for players in business and politics to rub shoulders with the First Minister and Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid. That night they also mingled with MI5 minders, a retired police chief and under cover officers from the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency (SDEA) and a drug dealer by the name of Justin McAlroy.
As millionaires such as James Mortimer, boss of Glasgow’s Victoria’s nightclub, bid around £2k for signed football strips, McAlroy’s champagne lifestyle was entering its final days. Six days later a hooded man would shoot the Porsche driver five times outside his luxury home in Cambuslang, in a killing which bore the hallmarks of a gangland hit.
McAlroy a well-known convicted drug dealer ( whose Labour-supporting father Thomas owned a stake in the country club) had been presented that evening with a commemorative plaque by McConnell’s close colleague, MP Frank Roy.
If senior Labour figures were later mortified by the criminal’s attendance they should not have been surprised. From ‘Monklands’ to ‘Lobbygate’, in recent years Lanarkshire has been a byword for Labour sleaze, for sectarianism, cronyism, nepotism and vicious party in-fighting.
This murky political culture is McConnell’s backyard. It is the poisonous backdrop against which reports last week of an £11k black hole in the three bank accounts run by the First Minister’s local party must be assessed. It is also why opposition politicians have seized on what might elsewhere have been written off as a little local difficulty and it is why McConnell’s aides, who held crisis talks on Friday, remain highly nervous.
One of the few things everyone who has seen the accounts can agree on is that they are in a state of chaos. One local party insider said: “There is a disturbing paucity of information. We are not talking in terms of a fiver or a tenner here or there. We are talking about gaps amounting to considerable amounts of money, into the hundreds and thousands.”
A source close to McConnell added: “The accounts are an absolute bloody shambles.” McConnell’s people believe details of the missing cash were leaked by hostile elements within Lanarkshire Labour circles.
The latest embarrassment for Scotland’s third First Minister is, however, about more than just Lanarkshire in-fighting. Having claimed the scalp of Henry McLeish after his “muddle” over office allowances, Tory and Nationalist strategists would lose little sleep over the downfall of a man who promised stability and transparency after three years of trauma for the Scottish parliament. For them this is the hunting season, and Lanarkshire has always proved good hunting ground.
McConnell, an Arran lad with a political background in Stirling, entered Lanarkshire, a land of massive Labour majorities, with his eyes open. He was fully aware that Helen Liddell, now Scottish Secretary, had only managed to win through as a by-election candidate in Monklands in 1994 after turning on the Labour council which had been accused of a “jobs for the boys” policy.
McConnell was at his best as a machine politician, three years after Monklands when he was Scottish Labour’s general secretary and worked with Liddell to secure the Motherwell and Wishaw seat for Frank Roy, despite strong local competition from front runner Hugh Mulholland.
Then McConnell himself managed to win by the narrowest of votes the Motherwell and Wishaw nomination for the first Scottish parliament election, snatching it in a bitter contest from Mulholland’s close ally Bill Tynan, now a Lanarkshire MP. Allies of the First Minister believe neither Tynan nor Mulholland ever forgave him and have suggested they could be behind last week’s tabloid newspaper leaks.
One source close to McConnell said: “Mulholland is the local auditor who has been kicking up all the fuss about these accounts. Is it a coincidence that he told us about the problem on Monday then we read about it in the Sun on Wednesday?” Another ally said: “It is a matter of fact that Tynan and McConnell do not get on. The same goes for Mulholland and Frank Roy. This was not the work of someone acting alone.” Mulholland denied he was involved in a smear campaign, and a source close to Tynan insisted he, too, had played no role.
It is not the first time McConnell’s character has been called into question as a result of his Lanarkshire connections. It was there that he was accused last year of trying to gag a local newspaper which was reporting on his office allowances. And it was his links with a Lanarkshire lobbying firm owned by Beattie Media that thrust McConnell into a “cash for access” row in 1999, in which he was ultimately cleared, and which led to former Beattie employee Christina Marshall joining his local office as a constituency secretary.
Marshall, the daughter of Glasgow Labour MP David Marshall, gave evidence in the cash for access investigation which clashed with another Beattie witness. She is also the centre of the latest allegations which have been laced with innuendo.
McConnell has had to account for the fact that one of three local accounts under investigation paid for a five-star room for Marshall at Edinburgh’s Caledonian Hotel during a Scottish Labour conference in March 2000. McConnell, then finance minister with ambitions for the top job, was staying at the hotel with his wife Bridget.
The scale of the sums involved in Labour politics in Lanarkshire has astonished activists in other parts of the country. One who was stunned by the money changing hands at Motherwell’s Red Rose dinner was “gobsmacked” by the latest irregularity. “Most local parties are lucky to have about three or four hundred pounds swilling around at a time, let alone £11k.” But the presence of Scotland’s most powerful politicians has long made Lanarkshire a honeypot for business and union donations on a scale that have raised questions and rumours.
Documents recently revealed that Frank Roy’s general election campaign had been funded almost entirely by Ian Skelly, famous for his successful car business. Skelly put up £5k of the 5.7k campaign fund.
Helen Liddell received a £5k election fund donation, courtesy of millionairess Vera Weisfield, the former owner of What Every Woman Wants. In 1999 McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw party received £5k from the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation – whose donations are also now being examined – while former cabinet minister Tom McCabe accepted a £1k campaign donation from the locally-based Doonin Plant Ltd.
Labour seems determined to close down the latest controversy before it blows up into something it cannot control. But it may be too late for that. While party insiders say the missing money is about nothing more than a woman who borrowed money to pay off crippling credit card debts, and that McConnell was not a signatory to the accounts, the episode has led to unprecedented scrutiny of Labour’s secretive financial practices in Lanarkshire.
McConnell will remain under tremendous pressure until the discrepancies are adequately explained. Allies are conscious that the downfall of Henry McLeish owed more to his subsequent explanation of the so-called ‘Officegate’ sub-letting affair than the act itself. They are smarting at SNP claims that McConnell misled parliament by claiming he became aware of local concerns only three months ago and reported them to Labour general secretary Lesley Quinn.
Nationalists believe McConnell was part of an initial investigation into the financial problems seven months ago and should have admitted this to parliament. “You couldn’t make up this s**t if you tried,” chuckled one SNP insider. “And the great thing is the info isn’t coming from us. It’s coming from Labour’s own side.” Senior Labour figures are appealing for calm, concerned about whether devolution could survive the downfall of a third First Minister in three years.
Last night Alex Rowley, Labour’s former Scottish general secretary, said: “There is a real danger that people are starting to disengage with an institution we fought so hard to get. People are asking: ‘What are we paying these people for?’ We need real leadership not just for the Labour party but all the other parties as well.”
But there was little sign last night that McConnell’s problems were likely to go away. “The whole area is bubbling like a cauldron,” said one Lanarkshire council source. “If Labour cannot deal with sleaze in Lanarkshire why should we expect them to be able to run the country?” ( The Scotsman)
Frank Roy and Jack
25 Feb 2003: Wishawgate exposes Labour’s ugly side
Wishawgate seemed a ludicrous name for it. Jack McConnell’s constituency party messed up their accounts; they apologised and no money disappeared. Where, it may be asked, is the scandal?
Yesterday’s verdict from the Electoral Commission – a slap on the hand for the Motherwell and Wishaw Constituency Labour Party – seemed to suggest a mild offence. Yet David Triesman, the Labour Party’s general secretary, is expecting the worst. His memo last month predicted that Mr McConnell will pay a price at the polls. Once again, a trivial matter has exposed something far more ugly and dangerous: the nepotism, feuding, and favouritism which still stains the Scottish Labour Party.
Wishawgate started when, in October 2002, leaked accounts of the party’s Motherwell and Wishaw branch showed a discrepancy of some £11K. The constituency is shared by Mr McConnell and Frank Roy, its Westminster MP. It also emerged that some of this money had been used to pay a hotel bill of Christina Marshall – then Mr McConnell’s personal assistant.
She was born into the Scottish Labour network through her father, David Marshall, MP for Glasgow Shettleston. She met Mr McConnell when they both worked for Beattie Media, the public relations company. Ms Marshall, 25, had already hit the headlines. In 1999, she testified during the “Lobbygate” imbroglio where Mr McConnell was accused – and later cleared – of facilitating special access to ministers for Beattie Media’s clients.
Paying the accommodation of a party worker is, in itself, no great sin. But it was disclosed that Ms Marshall had been treated to the Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh’s five-star finest, running up a £168 bill. Here was the first damaging snapshot of Scottish Labour’s modus operandi. The bill was paid from a fund started by a trade union – which collects its cash from the working men and women Labour purports to represent. Here, such funds were being creamed off so the party elite – and their acolytes – can upgrade to a five-star hotel rather than endure the hardship of a Travelodge. Hardly the socialist ideal.
Back in April 2002, Mr McConnell was none too keen to elaborate on the missing money – even when it was discovered the First Minister failed to provide receipts for some £3K of expenditure. The Motherwell and Wishaw auditor asked plenty questions. But, he later claimed, the responses from both Mr McConnell and Mr Roy were either “contradictory or failed to answer the questions”. This was why, in September, the auditor sent his concerns to John Smith House, home of the Scottish Labour Party, where Lesley Quinn, its general secretary, promised to investigate.
Now for the next twist. This upstanding auditor was one Hugh Mulholland, a local party activist who lost out to Mr Roy in the selection process for the safe seat of Motherwell and Wishaw for the 1997 election. At the time, Mr McConnell was general secretary of Scottish Labour and vetting candidates. Mr Mulholland had been denied a sure ticket to Westminster; he had an axe to grind with both men. Hence his passing on of the matter to Ms Quinn – and her statement that there would be an inquiry.
So when the First Minister was questioned in the Scottish Parliament, he said the matter was being dealt with at headquarters. In an eerie echo of the defence given by Henry McLeish during Officegate, he said: “I would do nothing, absolutely nothing, that would ever bring this parliament into disrepute.”
The investigation, meanwhile, continued. Three funds had now come to light. The Development Fund account, started with a £5K donation from the salaries of members of a steel union. This was the one which paid for Ms Marshall’s hotel bill.
Then came the Motherwell and Wishaw Constituency Labour Party account, from which £11K was missing. There had been mysterious transactions between this and the Red Rose Dinner account – set up for a fundraising event attended by Mr McConnell. This leads to the most fascinating event of the affair. The Red Rose Dinner is a rum affair. Last year, it saw Mr McConnell and Mr Roy joined by luminaries such as John Reid, then Northern Ireland Secretary.
The host of the dinner was a convicted drug dealer named Justin McAlroy who was being investigated for his links to the Russian mafia. Six days after the dinner, he was shot dead outside his home in Cambuslang. His father was Tommy McAlroy, the part-owner of Dalziel Park Golf and Country Club. Justin passed a cash donation of about £11k to Elizabeth Wilson, McConnell’s local party treasurer.The money was subsequently deposited in the North Lanarkshire Municipal Bank which was run by Labour councillors, including Mrs Wilson’s husband. So close is the network that these people have set up their own banks.
The First Minister was, unsurprisingly, cleared of any wrongdoing by Ms Quinn’s probe. In a letter to Sir David Steel, he further blamed a “lack of communication” between Mr Mulholland and the former treasurer of his constituency.
This Scottish Labour structure was seen during the McLeish fiasco when it emerged he had let one of his offices to Digby Brown, a firm of lawyers which chases injury claims for trade unions and seemed to be hand-in-glove with the party. Former employees of this tiny firm include Douglas Alexander, now a Cabinet Office minister and Brian Fitzpatrick MSP . So it goes on.
Wishawgate again opened the lid on the bizarre clan system which is behind Scottish Labour – giving a snapshot which Scots voters may find deeply unappealing when asked whom should represent their country. Originally, no-one would believe that bungled office lets could bring down a first minister. But offices were not the issue then, in the same way that the dodgy accounts is not the issue now. Mr McLeish fell because he was a spider, not the fly caught in the web of Scottish Labour.
The Wishawgate affair, like Officegate, Lobbygate and Monklands before it, simply exposes the system which has always existed under this political establishment. Each of these scandals lifts up a garden stone, underneath which unpleasantness is found to be crawling. This is the purpose of devolution – to let Scots see for themselves the people who have been governing their country for decades.
In May 2017 Scots will be able to vote on whether they like what they see. And this is why the Wishawgate scandal can be such a danger to the Labour party. Voters do not care if a witless Lanarkshire accountant messed up. They do care if devolution has meant passing power to a small cadre of council hall stooges now forming a coalition with Scotland’s vested interests. (The Scotsman)
Worked for Digby Brown, Solicitors to the Labour party, who rented an office from disgraced (bungled office lets) ex first minister Henry Mcleish
Worked for Digby Brown, Solicitors to the Labour Party, who rented an office from disgraced (bungled office lets) ex first minister Henry Mcleish. Served as Head of Policy in the First Minister’s Policy Unit for the late Donald Dewar, he is now one of Scotland’s top Advocates
15 Jun 2003: Jack McConnell’s former Personal Assistant in Suicide Attempt
The former personal aide of First Minister Jack McConnell told yesterday how she tried to kill herself with a cocktail of alcohol and drugs after being linked to a Labour cash scandal. Ex-secretary Christina Marshall, 26, drank a litre of vodka and took a week’s supply of anti-stress pills in the wake of Wishawgate – when an £11k black hole was discovered in the accounts of McConnell’s constituency.
Christina broke her silence on her torment last week after being cleared by the Fraud Squad of any blame for the missing funds. And she told how her life had been wrecked by the affair. She revealed how: Her lawyer boyfriend kicked her out when news of the cash scandal broke; A cancer charity she supported told her to quit because it feared being tarnished in the wake of the Wishawgate investigation; And how she decided life was no longer worth living and tried to kill herself.
Christina turned to the press to tell her side of the story – after her name had been dragged through the mud in the wake of the revelations that rocked McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw constituency. Distraught Christina said: “For too long, I’ve been the subject of one story after another. I don’t work for Jack McConnell any longer. I don’t work for the Labour Party. I want to talk about it for the first and last time. Then I can get on with my life.”
Her nightmare began when an £11k shortfall in the Labour leader’s Motherwell and Wishaw constituency was revealed last October, prompting senior party officials to call in the police. Christina had stopped working for McConnell a year before but was publicly linked to the scandal after being named as one of three signatories to the account. And Christina was embroiled in more controversy when McConnell was questioned by party auditors over why he had paid for a hotel room for Christina at a work-related function he attended with his wife Bridget.
Last night, an emotional Christina relived the moment she sat alone in her Edinburgh flat and decided to take her own life. She had not been working for McConnell or Labour for seven months and was studying for a degree in event management at the city’s Queen Margaret University College.On the day the accounts story broke, a cancer charity she was working with as part of her degree said it no longer wanted anything to do with her because they feared they would be tainted by association. Christina has chosen not to name the charity.
To compound her misery, live-in boyfriend Andy Lothian, 31, a lawyer, told her to pack her bags from their Edinburgh flat after reading the allegations. Christina was already on medication for stress-induced panic attacks.
With her father David Marshall, Labour MP for Glasgow Shettleston, and her mother Tina in Canada on business, she was desperate – and alone. She said: “I was under so much pressure. I split up with my boyfriend on the day the accounts story broke and I was having trouble at university. “To make matters worse, my parents were out of the country. “I had prescription pills for panic attacks. I took a week’s worth of them and drank a litre of vodka. “I felt like I was being accused of being a thief. I had lost my reputation, my boyfriend, I had reporters at my door and I wanted it all to end.” The next thing she remembers is waking up in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Her estranged boyfriend had found her drifting in and out of consciousness and took her to hospital.
She discharged herself from hospital in the middle of the night and was picked up by her parents who had flown back from Canada. They took her to their home in Glasgow. Yesterday, Christina explained that the months between the overdose last October and Christmas were a living hell as she fought back to full health with the help of her family. Hanging over her was the police investigation into the missing money.
During her time as McConnell’s personal secretary, Christina was one of three signatories on the Red Rose Dinner Account which managed cash raised at a Labour fund raiser in Dalziel Park Country Club, near Motherwell.
The club is co-owned by Tommy McAlroy, who was at the dinner in March 2002, along with his son Justin, who was shot dead just days after the event.
Red Rose VIP diners included McConnell and wife Bridget, the then Ulster Secretary John Reid, and Motherwell and Wishaw MP Frank Roy. Christina was at the dinner as a guest and volunteer – despite the fact she no longer worked for McConnell.
She explained that she felt totally powerless to prove she was in no way involved with any missing money. Christina said: “It felt like I had been tried and convicted before anything had happened with the police. “One of the biggest problems I faced during those months was wondering what people who read newspaper stories about me actually believed I had done. “I obviously knew I wasn’t involved and had done nothing wrong or illegal but I had no way of proving it. The fact that I was only ever a witness in the police investigation is evidence that I was never a suspect.”
But she knows that police are still searching for the truth behind the missing Motherwell and Wishaw cash. That could see her appear in court as a witness but it doesn’t worry her. She said: “I realise that because I was a signatory of the Red Rose Dinner Account, I might be called as a witness in a future court case. “But at least I will just be a witness in court and not under suspicion. The police have assured me of that. “It was comforting to be told by the Fraud Squad that I’m not – and never have been – under investigation in relation to allegations of missing money from the Red Rose Dinner Account.”
While the Strathclyde Police inquiry continues, Christina has finished her degree and is carving out a successful career in a Glasgow- based e-business agency. Wishawgate had brought back bad memories for Christina of being embroiled in the Lobbygate row over cash access to senior government ministers in the autumn of 1999. At that time, she was assistant to McConnell, then the finance minister. That October, both gave evidence to the Holyrood Standards Committee investigating Lobbygate. They were subsequently cleared by MSPs.
Christina remains loyal to the First Minister who, along with Bridget, she considers a good friend. When Bridget was recovering from a breakdown two and a half years ago, Christina was there to provide support and day-to-day help.
She said that she is now enjoying life a lot more after giving a witness statement to police on Wishawgate. Christina added: “I hope that now that I have assisted police and been told that I was never even a suspect over any missing money, I’ll be allowed to put this incredibly stressful period of my life behind me.”
Police are believed to be looking at the finances of a separate Development Fund and the Red Rose Dinner Account. Marshall was co-signatory to the Red Rose account along with Motherwell and Wishaw Constituency Labour Party treasurer Liz Wilson. As McConnell and his MP colleague Frank Roy were not signatories to any of the three accounts, no blame was levelled at them. An internal Labour inquiry cleared McConnell and Roy of any blame. (Daily Record)
09 Apr 2004: McConnell local party treasurer admits to £11,000 fraud
Jack McConnell’s former local Labour Party treasurer yesterday admitted embezzling £11,000 from the First Minister’s constituency office funds.
Elizabeth Wilson pleaded guilty to the crime, which came to light after Mr McConnell became embroiled in controversy as a result of the discovery of a “black hole” in his local Labour finances. A court heard Wilson, 62, the former treasurer of the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency party, took the money out of local party funds and from cash raised at a Labour supporting Red Rose Dinner.
For over a year speculation surrounding the missing money has dogged the First Minister. Suspicions were first aroused when local auditors investigated the accounts in November 2001. At the time, Wilson said she stole £7k and paid back the money within three months. But in November 2002, Lesley Quinn, the Labour general secretary, called in the police when another audit revealed more money had gone.
After a lengthy investigation, police officers went to Wilson’s home in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, and brought her in for questioning. When interviewed, she admitted stealing £11k in total and said nobody else was involved. The constituency accounts were managed by Wilson, a union official and Mr McConnell’s former personal assistant, Christina Marshall, 27. An internal inquiry by the Labour Party cleared Mr McConnell and Frank Roy, the MP for Motherwell and Wishaw who uses the same office, of any wrongdoing.
Eyebrows were raised, however, when it was disclosed that Mr McConnell used constituency money to pay for a five-star hotel room for Miss Marshall during a Labour conference. The First Minister’s local finances also attracted publicity when it was disclosed that one Red Rose Dinner, held in Lanarkshire to raise cash for the party, was attended by a drug dealer, Justin McAlroy, who was murdered in a gangland killing six days later.
Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that Wilson, a Labour member for 24 years, stole the money over five years by forging the signature of another trustee of the accounts at the North Lanarkshire Municipal Bank.
Wilson was in court with her husband, William, a North Lanarkshire councillor and chairman of the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency party. Fiscal depute Jenny Fitzpatrick said: “She was in charge of individual accounts one of which was called the Agenda for Scotland, which raised money by fund-raising dinners. Previously only small sums of money moved through the accounts but in time larger sums of money started to come through. “
The accused was a signatory of this account and she conducted her duties from home whereas the other signatories worked from the constituency office. She signed bank withdrawal slips by forging another signatory’s name.” Her lawyer, Henry Findlay, said: “In her words ‘there was an opportunity, a temptation’, to which she succumbed. She is deeply embarrassed about the humiliation and the scandal she has caused and the effect it has had on others. It should be noted all the money has been returned.” She was fined £2,400 . (The Telegraph)
(1) 29 Jun 2008: Labour’s Marshall in shock resignation after rumours over expenses
Scottish Labour MP David Marshall’s shock resignation came after rumours swept Westminster that he was about to be engulfed in a row over expenses payments to family members.
Senior Labour sources dismissed reports that the Glasgow East MP’s resignation was entirely the result of his health problems. They said privately that former bus conductor Mr Marshall, 67, was quitting his safe seat to avoid becoming the latest MP to be embroiled in allegations of misuse of expenses. During the past three years he has claimed nearly £220,000 to pay for staff, plus £7,000 for their travel expenses. He lists one member of staff on the Commons’ register of secretaries and research assistants – Christina Marshall.
But last night it was unclear whether that was his wife, known as Tina, or his daughter Christina. The mystery deepened when it was disclosed that he had not made any mention of relatives working for him on the new official register listing family members paid by MPs out of their Commons staffing allowance.
The list was introduced in April in the wake of the row over MPs employing close relatives at huge cost to the taxpayer. Yesterday, neighbours of Mr Marshall at his semi-detached home in Glasgow’s East End said they believed his wife Tina worked for him. Separately, former Labour Minister Brian Wilson told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs Marshall had ‘always been his constituency secretary’.
(2) 4 Dec 2011: Christina Marshall (she of the Lobbygate and Wishagate scandals) and her “top of the range” car fraudster husband take up the business once again
A convicted car fraudster is back in business selling second-hand motors to unsuspecting customers. James Doyle, 47, is the man behind the Glasgow Motor Company, based in Paisley. The father-of-two runs his new showroom with his wife Christina, 34, who is the daughter of former Labour MP David Marshall. They sell second-hand and luxury motors, including Maserati’s, Rolls-Royce’s and Audi’s. But people who flock to his forecourt will be unaware that Doyle served time in prison for duping past customers.
In February 2007 at Dumbarton Sheriff Court he admitted defrauding 57 people out of pounds 89,000 worth of deposits at his UK Vehicle Solutions Business in Clydebank and was jailed for eight months. The 57 victims had paid deposits in August 2005 for top-of-the-range luxury cars – but never received them. Trading standards investigators from West Dunbartonshire Council received 150 complaints about his firm the next month from furious customers. They passed the file to Strathclyde Police who launched a major fraud probe. But it took officers 18 months to bring Doyle to court because he disappeared after UK Vehicle Solutions shut down.