19th August 2013
A Fight for Fairness
Earlier today, lawyers acting for Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) 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 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.”
- The solicitors acting for SSE are Leigh Day & Co of 25 St John’s Lane, London and SSE’s barristers are from ‘Thirty-nine 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.