Published On: Wed, Jan 29th, 2020

Excl: Tom Watson’s driver recorded boasting of unreported ‘loan’ of £25,600 to prevent MP Shah ‘bankruptcy’

Bill Gavan describes raising large sum to pay off debt for Bradford West MP day after 2015 election, but no entry seems to have been made in register of interests

Tom Watson’s driver-cum-fixer has been recorded boasting of raising almost £26,000 to prevent Bradford West MP Naz Shah being taken to bankruptcy court on the day she was first elected in 2015.

Bill Gavan, a Sandwell councillor and close ally of former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, was recorded by a local whistleblower and can be heard explaining the move to rescue ‘that woman elected up in… Bradford’ – as well as boasting of arranging for payment of a hotel bill for a married political figure whose wallet had been stolen while meeting a woman in London when he was supposed to be abroad.

Gavan boasts that ‘we’ did it, but does not specify in the recording which people ‘we’ represents.

Gavan can also be heard swearing as he recalls that the MP then ‘got herself f***ing suspended‘ – and her appointment as a candidate by Labour’s NEC (National Executive Committee) – before saying to his listener that Shah faced bankruptcy court on the morning after the 2015 general election. Bankruptcy can in some circumstances render a candidate ineligible for election or an MP ineligible to remain in Parliament.

Gavan then explains that ‘we’ raised £25,600 to pay the outstanding debt – and that this was a ‘loan’ eventually repaid:

Register of interests

Parliamentary rules on MPs’ financial declarations state that members must declare:

any financial or non-financial benefit received by a MP or Member of the Lords which might reasonably be thought by others to influence their actions, speeches or votes in Parliament or influence their actions taken in their capacity as a Member.

However, Ms Shah does not appear to have declared the receipt of such a ‘loan’ in her “Register of Members’ Interests” for that year or the following year:

Naz Shah’s December 2015 Register of Interests entry

In fact, as of the time of writing the SKWAWKBOX has been unable to find an entry in Ms Shah’s register for anything resembling the loan mentioned by Bill Gavan.

Might she simply have repaid the loan before her first entry in the register in early June 2015? Ms Shah has not responded to requests for comment and Bill Gavan declined to say when the loan was repaid or to whom.

However, a loan being repaid does not remove the need for a declaration. Then-contender for the Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn, for example, received a loan toward the cost of his campaign – and declared this in the first register entry after it was received.

But he also continued to declare it many months after it was repaid:

Corbyn’s entry in the Register of 14 December 2015 shows a loan repaid 5 months earlier

Tom Watson’s entry in the same December 2015 register similarly shows a loan he had repaid months before.

The purpose of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests is, as parliamentary rules make clear, to ensure transparency in anything that “might reasonably be thought by others to influence their actions, speeches or votes in Parliament or influence their actions taken in their capacity as a Member“.

Even a repaid loan provided in a crisis might ‘reasonably be thought’ to carry such influence long after the repayment. Bill Gavan said of the loan he claimed was provided to Naz Shah that:

They were taking her to bankruptcy court the following morning… so we paid the bill of £25,600.

Naz Shah was first contacted for comment over Gavan’s claims in October last year. She was asked:

  • whether Gavan’s claims were true
  • whether she had declared the loan
  • whether she had ever been asked for any favours or cooperation as a result

She did not respond. Ms Shah was contacted again by email, mobile call and text message last weekend and was notified that publication was imminent as well as being asked to comment, but has not responded.

Tom Watson was contacted by email and text to ask whether he wished to comment on the issues. He did not respond by the time of publication.

Bill Gavan was contacted in 2019 and again on Monday. He claimed that he had just been spinning the eventual whistleblower ‘a yarn’, but also said that he did not wish to comment on whether the loan had been made, whether it had been repaid and if so to whom.

He did not deny that he had been talking about Naz Shah or dispute the authenticity of the recording.

He then said:

I have no comment and nor has Tom.

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