Businessmen at the centre of a bitter row over the ownership of the Teesworks site have challenged an MP to report them to the police if he believes they engaged in criminal conduct.
It comes on the back of escalating political tensions over Teesworks, which yesterday saw Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald accuse Chris Musgraves and Martin Corney, alongside Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, of being involved in “industrial scale corruption” in Parliament.
The allegations - including that “the only economic growth being delivered is into the accounts of Ben Houchen’s pals, Messrs Musgrave and Corney” – were labelled “an abuse of power” and “a step too far” by a Teesworks spokesperson.
As the comments were made in Parliament, they, therefore, fall under parliamentary privilege and are free from any possible defamation claims.
Mr McDonald’s comments were made following the latest in a series of articles published in Private Eye magazine, which reveal that the private South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) paid only £96.79 (plus VAT) for the freeholds for the future site of a wind turbine factory from the public sector.
Land registry documents seen by The Northern Echo confirm this was the sum paid for the freeholds.
But Mayor Houchen said that this statistic did not consider the “liabilities” of the site, which he claimed total minus £482 million, and a £20 million annual tax bill.
When questioned at Redcar and Cleveland College yesterday (April 20), he said that they had not “given the site away” to the private sector, and that profits totalling £30 million per year would be split equally between Redcar Council and STDC.
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A Teesworks spokesperson said: “Over the past 18 months, Andy McDonald MP, has made several speeches in relation to Teesworks, under the veil of Parliamentary Privilege, which protects him from legal action for defamation - in effect, this has allowed him to slander and smear the reputation of Ben Houchen, Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney with no regard to the implications.
“Mr McDonald should know better, but he prefers to ignore the facts, distort the truth, and peddle propaganda at every opportunity for his own political purposes.
“In the past, Messrs Musgrave and Corney have treated Mr McDonald with the contempt that he deserves, but his recent speech under Parliamentary Privilege was a step too far and an abuse of power.
“It is obvious from his comments that Mr McDonald believes that criminal offences have been committed by all three men, as well as the professional officers of the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), and the legal advisors involved in the contractual agreements in relation to the Teesworks land site - if this is the case, then Mr McDonald should make a formal criminal complaint to the Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, and provide any evidence of a criminal nature so that an investigation can occur without delay.
“Any wrongdoing would require a ‘conspiracy’ of such magnitude that, dozens of people from multiple organisations would have to be involved in the planning and execution of such a ‘conspiracy’. In effect, that is the charge being laid by Mr McDonald, which is complete folly and without substance.
“Messrs Musgrave and Corney would be willing to assist any investigative process, as they have nothing to hide, and are keen to expose Mr McDonald’s motives, which are driven by vengeance, mischief and a desire to destroy Teesworks to advance his own political ambitions.
“The true facts are already within the public domain, but are ignored by our critics, who for the most part are resentful and bitter at the prospect of Teesworks being a success, but over the coming days, we will explain the facts again, to remind the public of the progress that has been made on Teesworks over the last three years.”
Speaking to the Northern Echo, Mr McDonald said: “As I made abundantly clear in Parliament, what now must happen is that this Government should fully explain how these vast amounts of public funds could have been spent only for key parcels of land to be transferred to these private developers who paid peanuts.
“Yet, all the while, the State remains on the hook for ongoing environmental costs.
“Let us not forget, we are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money here. The lack of transparency is staggering, and every relevant detail has had to be dragged out of TVCA and STDC.”
“The time for their attempts to frustrate demands for answers is well and truly over.”
On a visit to the North East today, Sir Keir Starmer also said “serious questions need to be answered” over the ownership of the Teesworks site.