Fringe Box



Council Leader’s Denial Backed But MP Still Seeks Letter Over Russia Visit Claim

Published on: 31 Jan, 2019
Updated on: 31 Jan, 2019

Sir Paul Beresford MP and Cllr Paul Spooner

GBC leader Paul Spooner has been under fire for weeks since MP Sir Paul Beresford claimed, under Parliamentary privilege, that Cllr Spooner had visited Russia with White Vale Councillor Mike Murray, who represents Wisley Investment Property Limited (WIPL). Sir Paul “understood” this visit was concerned with possible Russian-backed development of the controversial airfield site on green belt land.

Several times, Cllr Spooner has been publicly forced to deny impropriety. Now, an emphatic letter from Cllr Murray to Sir Paul Beresford, completely corroborates Cllr Spooner’s statements that they have never travelled together anywhere and have met only in the presence of council officers.

When asked Sir Paul about an apology, the reply was: “Mike Murray has written to me. Mr Spooner has not.”

Previously, Sir Paul had said he would withdraw his remarks if Cllr Spooner wrote to him. Why he wants Cllr Spooner to confirm his denial in writing, after his denials were published in The Dragon, is unclear.

Mike Murray’s letter reads:

Letter from Mike Murray to Sir Paul Beresford. Causeway is Mike Murray’s company.

Dear Sir Paul

I write with reference to the question that you put in Westminster Hall [January 16, 2019] with regard to Guildford Borough Council’s local plan, and the proposed garden village at Wisley airfield in particular.

You will be aware that I am (through my company Causeway Land) the promoter of Wisley airfield. I have been solely representing the owner, Wisley Property Investments Ltd, [WIPL] in this capacity since the end of 2012.

I am also an elected member of the Vale of White Horse District Council, and have served as a councillor there for some 12 years.

In your speech, you made numerous references to Wisley airfield, its contribution to the Guildford Borough Council Local Plan, and to the Local Plan in general. Your comments were in the most part erroneous and wrong; it is clear that you were misinformed for your address. [Sentence redacted]

You appear to allege that I (there are no other Vale of White Horse District councillors supporting the Wisley project) have had an inappropriate relationship with the leader of GBC, Cllr Paul Spooner

In your speech you state: “The promoters behind the Wisley adventure are numerous and the links that bind them together are nothing if not convoluted. There appears to be a Russian influence behind the proposers. We know that, for example, the leader of Guildford Borough Council took a trip, or trips, to Russia with a councillor from the Vale of the White Horse, who was working with the Wisley owners. I understand that the reason for the visit was to encourage Russian development in the UK and presumably in Guildford, with an emphasis on Wisley…”

Cllr Spooner has been reported by the Guildford Dragon as responding on January 16, 2019 to your comments: “I can categorically state that I have never taken a trip, or trips, to Russia, for GBC or any borough, district, county, or as a politician, for any party/parties, at any time. I have never travelled anywhere with a councillor from the Vale of the White Horse, let alone abroad and let alone Russia.”

In a comment on January 22, below the Guildford Dragon article, Cllr Spooner then said: “For absolute clarification, I have not travelled anywhere with a councillor from Vale of White Horse. If Sir Paul was referring to Cllr Mike Murray, who is promoting the Wisley site, I have met him at Millmead with other Wisley site promoters, council officers being present. Again, I have noted Cllr Murray’s attendance at one or two conferences in the UK where I have also been a delegate.

“As it happens, I once went into the Britannia pub in Guildford after a meeting and Cllr Murray, there with his colleagues at the bar, offered me a drink. I politely declined. I understand that Sir Paul has stated that his ‘source’ cannot be contacted at present because he is skiing in Malaysia and Sir Paul will withdraw his statement after he has discussed matters with him. I assume he is still trying to contact this elusive ‘source’…”

I also can categorically confirm that I have never travelled with Cllr Spooner, or any other officer or member of Guildford Borough Council, to Russia, or anywhere else.

Your comments are preserved for the record on Hansard. Given that they are wholly untrue, and reputationally damaging both to Cllr Spooner and myself, they require correction. To make such statements under parliamentary privilege is not befitting of your status or dignity as a long-serving Member of Parliament, or a knight of the realm, and I would urge you to unconditionally withdraw your comments.

Also, your comments on the local plan, and Wisley airfield, in particular, are wrong, and withdrawal would be welcomed to set the record straight.

I am sorry your sources have so badly misinformed you on this occasion. I would be happy to meet with you to enable you to be properly informed on planning matters relating to Wisley airfield.

I understand that you have been offered such engagement in the past by the project consultation adviser, Julian Seymour, and we restate our continued willingness to meet with you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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