Peers say three-year wait for police probe into Liverpool mayor ‘outrageous’

© Paul Hanley/

Peers including the former Conservative minister Michael Heseltine have demanded answers as to why former Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has been left in legal limbo for more than three years.

Anderson and others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation in December 2020, prompting him to stand aside and the party to suspend him pending the outcome.

Anderson was then released under investigation with no charges brought, but an inquiry is still ongoing more than three years later.

Lord Heseltine, who served as Deputy Prime Minister under John Mayor and was informally dubbed ‘minister for Merseyside’ in the 1980s, questioned how the police had handled the case and asked whether the lengthy investigation amounted to justice.

Heseltine asked: “Joe Anderson, was arrested on serious charges, including fraud and bribery. That was three years and four months ago. He lost his job, his reputation and his income. No charge has been made since then. Does my noble friend the Minister think that is justice?”

Other peers also voiced concerns in the Lords on Monday, with Lord Alton of Liverpool claiming it is “outrageous” that the investigation has hung over Anderson and his family. “As far as the politics of Liverpool is concerned, it does not help politics or good governance for a case to fester like this for so long.”

Lord Woodley, who said he considered Anderson a friend, said it was “an absolute disgrace”.

Anderson told LabourList he was “humbled” by the peers’ intervention, comparing his fate to “a prison sentence” and saying Lord Alton had been right to say “justice delayed is justice denied”.

He suggested a 2017 law allowing suspects to be released under investigation, rather than just on bail or with no further action, needs “looking at” given the limbo it leaves suspects in.

Anderson said the past few years had been “tough” personally and financially. He said he had not been able to go out without people pointing, and said: “Social media warriors say there’s no smoke without fire”.

“The old adage ‘you’re innocent till proven guilty’ clearly doesn’t apply in my case,” Anderson said.

“I’ve been like a recluse and it’s been like a prison sentence. Faith, friends and family have really kept me going.”

He said he believed he was still suspended by Labour too, but remained “proud” of his association with the party over four decades.

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said it would be “inappropriate” to comment while the investigation remains ongoing.

“The police are rightly independent of government and decisions concerning investigations are operational ones for the respective police forces to make,” he said.

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said: “This complex investigation is still ongoing and officers are working as expeditiously as possible for all concerned.”

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