Steve O’Connell, Britain’s most overpaid local councillor, in 2008 accepted a gift from Mazhar Majeed, the sports agent who last November was sentenced to 20 months in prison for his part in the Pakistan Test cricket spot-fixing scandal.
O’Connell, ward councillor for Kenley, is standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the London Assembly elections in May.
Majeed was a local businessman who ran a property development company, Bluesky Developments, which had its offices in South End. Majeed became notorious in August 2010 when his photograph was plastered over the front page of the News of the World following an undercover “sting” operation in which he accepted £150,000 to fix a series of no balls to be bowled by the Pakistani team playing against England in that summer’s Lord’s Test match.
The report led to Majeed’s arrest, trial and prosecution. He is now in Ford open prison in Sussex, picking up £9.50 per week as a cleaner.
It all represents quite a come down for the 37-year-old who had a £1.8-million family home on the swish Oaks Road in Shirley, ran a chain of ice cream parlours, drove an Aston Martin sports car and even owned a football club, albeit non-league Croydon Athletic.
During his seven-week trial at Southwark Crown Court last autumn, it emerged that Majeed boasted of close friendships with tennis star Roger Federer, Hollywood actor Brad Pitt and former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.
Unmentioned in court as being among Majeed’s famous friends was Assembly Member Steve O’Connell.
But according to members’ declarations of interest at City Hall, O’Connell was on first-name terms with Majeed. O’Connell’s own declaration shows that he received “tickets” from “Mazhar, Chairman of Bluesky Developments” to attend a match at Croydon Athletic on November 15, 2008. Public service rules force O’Connell to declare any gifts he receives valued at £25 or more.
Until a couple of weeks ago, former mortgage salesman O’Connell trousered more than £115,000 per year in public money allowances for his roles with Croydon Council, the London Assembly and the (now defunct) Metropolitan Police Authority. It all prompted the Daily Mail to dub him “the best-paid councillor in Britain” a year ago.
Such public largesse has not prevented O’Connell – who tries to curry local popularity by boasting of his support for Crystal Palace – from assiduously accepting freebie football tickets from Crystal Palace and others.
According to his declarations, O’Connell has been given at least 13 tickets by the football club for Crystal Palace matches in the past four years. It is difficult to see how this apparently friendly relationship might not influence O’Connell, if he is re-elected as a Croydon councillor for Kenley and the London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, when the redevelopment of the Selhurst Park site comes up for planning permission in the future.
But Crystal Palace have not been O’Connell’s sole providers of generous freebies at Selhurst Park matches. In March 2009, his ticket providers were Stanhope, the property developers looking to build Ruskin Square, next to East Croydon Station.
Other match ticket providers have included the Not-in-Croydon Sadvertiser: you can only wonder whether they expected anything in return from O’Connell.
And last April, O’Connell received from Phil Alexander, the chief executive at Crystal Palace, the benefit of “a complementary table” to attend the Croydon Ball, the glittering event hosted by David “Kid” Jenson under a marquee on the pitch at Selhurst Park.
No matter that this is supposed to be a charity fund-raising event, the gift provided to O’Connell would cost anyone else £900 to buy for this year’s equivalent occasion. Let’s hope that from his generous public-funded allowances, O’Connell was able to make a suitable donation.
Following Majeed’s unmasking as a fraudster 18 months ago, the fortunes of the other local football club where O’Connell has enjoyed free hospitality, Croydon Athletic, took a massive turn for the worst, leading to their ultimate demise.
Majeed bought Croydon Athletic in 2008 – shortly before he enticed Steve O’Connell to the club with the offer of a couple of free tickets. But when Majeed had his assets frozen following his arrest in 2010, there was an exodus of the club’s coaching and playing staff; by the end of last year, out of money, the club could not field any sort of team to fulfil its fixtures.
This sad turn of events prompted Ken Fisher, the club’s co-founder in 1982, to observe, “When Mazhar Majeed came in he came in with a lot of credibility from people that spoke well of him.”
Inside Croydon wanted to find out whether Steve O’Connell was one of those who, back in 2008, was speaking on behalf of the flamboyant local businessman.
But when we rang O’Connell’s office at City Hall, he was not there. So we emailed him our questions. Despite being our London Assembly Member, O’Connell has not had the courtesy to acknowledge nor to answer our questions asking about the nature of his relationship with Mazher Majeed.
It could well be that in November 2008, as a councillor for Kenley and recently elected as the London Assembly member for Croydon, Steve O’Connell innocently accepted a couple of tickets for a non-league football match, courtesy of the club’s new chairman.
In which case, we wonder why O’Connell has been so reluctant to answer quite legitimate questions about his involvement with Mazhar Majeed.
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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