SSE has served formal notice on the Secretary of State for Transport requiring the removal of Geoff Muirhead from Airports Commission
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has served formal notice on the Secretary of State for Transport requiring the removal of Mr Geoff Muirhead from the Airports Commission on the grounds of apparent bias. This is the first formal legal step towards judicial review proceedings which will commence with an application to the High Court in early September if Mr Muirhead continues to serve on the Commission. Mr Muirhead is the former Chief Executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) the company which now owns Stansted Airport, from which he retired in October 2010, after 22 years with the Group. After retiring, and even when he had been appointed to the Airports Commission, Mr Muirhead continued to work for MAG in a highly paid role until January 2013. He was paid £82,000 by MAG during the six months from October 2010 to March 2011 inclusive for acting as an ‘ambassador’ to the Group. As he has not voluntarily stood down, SSE is now seeking legal redress. SSE believes there is far too much at stake to allow Mr Muirhead’s role as a Commissioner to go unchallenged.
A fight for fairness
19.8.2013 (Stop Stansted Expansion)
This is the first formal legal step towards judicial review proceedings which will commence with an application to the High Court in early September if Mr Muirhead continues to serve on the Airports Commission.
Mr Muirhead is the former Chief Executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) the company which now owns Stansted Airport. His biography as published by the Airports Commission states that he retired from his role as Chief Executive of MAG in October 2010, after 22 years with the Group. However, it fails to point out that, after retiring as Group Chief Executive, and indeed, after being appointed to the Airports Commission, Mr Muirhead continued to work for MAG in a highly paid role until January 2013.
SSE discovered these facts only after its own investigations, including a review of the MAG financial accounts for the year ending 31 March 2011, which showed that Mr Muirhead was paid £82,000 by MAG during the six months from October 2010 to March 2011 inclusive for acting as an ‘ambassador’ to the Group. [see notes below] The accounts also show that, as at 31 March 2011, Mr Muirhead had accumulated a pension lump sum of £450,000 and had an accrued MAG pension of £95,000.
Up until last month, SSE was pursuing this matter quietly, behind the scenes, with Sir Howard Davies, the Chairman of the Airports Commission, and the Secretary of State for Transport. We had hoped that Mr Muirhead would have by now voluntarily stood down from the Commission so as to avoid bringing into question the Commission’s independence and impartiality. However, that has not been the case and so we are now seeking legal redress.
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “Now that MAG is directly lobbying the Airports Commission for major expansion at Stansted, we believe there is far too much at stake to allow Mr Muirhead’s role as a Commissioner to go unchallenged.”
Mr Sanders continued: “It is only after the most careful consideration that we have decided to initiate legal proceedings but we believe we have a duty to the community that we represent to ensure that the issues regarding potential airport expansion are examined fairly, impartially and independently – and that this is seen to be the case.”
Mr Sanders concluded: “Legal proceedings are, of course, very expensive and we need to fund this from donations from our members and the general public. However, the initial response has been very encouraging, indicating that the community shares our concern about Mr Muirhead’s role and agrees that this needs to be challenged.”
NOTE TO EDITORS
The solicitors acting for SSE are Leigh Day & Co of 25 St John’s Lane, London and SSE’s barristers are from ‘Thirtynine Essex Street’ chambers, 39 Essex Street, London, led by senior counsel Paul Stinchcombe QC.
The formal legal document served today on the Secretary of State and Airports Commission is a Pre-Action Protocol Letter (‘PAPL’), which is a pre-requisite before an application for judicial review can be considered by the High Court.
We have so far been unable to establish the level of remuneration/fees paid to Mr Muirhead during the years ending 31 March 2012 and 31 March 2013 because this is not disclosed in the MAG financial accounts. There is in fact no legal obligation to disclose during these two years because the Companies Act only requires disclosure in respect of directors. Mr Muirhead ceased to be a director of MAG during the financial year ending 31 March 2011.
Stop Stansted Expansion calls for resignation of Geoff Muirhead from Airports Commission due to bias
July 28, 2013
Campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion SSE have highlighted the problem of a conflict of interest concerning Geoff Muirhead, who is a member of the government-appointed Airports Commission. Mr Muirhead retired as chief executive of MAG in 2010, and he represented MAG in an “ambassadorial role” until January 2013, several months after he was appointed to the Airports Commission. MAG bought Stansted from BAA in February 2013. Earlier this month MAG published options on where to build a second runway at Stansted and potentially even expand it into a four-runway hub. SSE are calling for Mr Muirhead’s resignation. SSE has written to Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Commission and Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, warning it will mount a legal challenge if Mr Muirhead refuses to step down. The group claims in the letter, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, that there is an issue of “apparent bias”. The letter (26th July) says: “In the circumstances we consider it unacceptable for Mr Muirhead to continue to serve on the Airports Commission and the longer he continues to serve, the more the process risks being tainted.” SSE will start taking legal advice within 14 days if they receive no satisfactory commitment on the matter.