Friday, 18 April 2008

Golden wedding cruise couple 'held for ransom'

A ROUND-the-world cruise to celebrate a West Somerset couple’s golden wedding anniversary took a potentially worrying turn when their ship dramatically found itself effectively being held for ransom in a foreign port.
Richard and Julia Bath had saved for two-and-a-half years for their once-in-a-lifetime romantic holiday, which was to have lasted 93 days, taking in 28 different countries.
But the holiday was threatened with disaster when travel firm Travelscope went bust at Christmas and Mr and Mrs Bath were told the cruise had been cancelled.
Then, within a few days a second firm, Dutch-owned Club Cruise, agreed to lease the cruise liner MV Van Gogh and the trip was back on.
But after a ‘marvellous and fantastic’ holiday, Mr and Mrs Bath suddenly found themselves caught up in a legal wrangle between the two holiday firms.
As the MV Van Gogh dropped anchor in Madeira, its last port of call before returning to Falmouth, a court action was begun and the ship was placed ‘under arrest’ and a police cordon was thrown around it.
The dispute resulted in a court order detaining the vessel in Funchal while Travelscope’s receivers tried to claw back £1.5 million from Club Cruise.
The liner and its 460 passengers who had paid between £12,000 and £20,000 for their cabins, was then stranded.
It took two days before the dispute was resolved and the ship was allowed to leave the island and return to England.
Safely back in their home in Metropole Court, Minehead, Mr Bath, aged 72, and Mrs Bath, aged 71, explained to The Post how the trip had only gone ahead because ABTA had guaranteed it after passengers agreed to sign over their payments to the insurance agency.
However, Mrs Bath said the deal was that no money would be released to ABTA until after the cruise had been completed and the ship had returned to Falmouth.
She said: “By holding us hostage in Madeira, they were holding ABTA hostage and that increased the pressure to get the dispute resolved.
“They had to get us in a neutral port as it would not have worked if we had returned to the UK because the money would have been paid out.”
Despite the wrangle, Mr and Mrs Bath did not feel like prisoners.
Mrs Bath said: “We were allowed to leave the ship in the meantime and do what we wanted, and they put on an excursion for us with eight coaches on one afternoon.”
The hiccup did not spoil the holiday for the couple, whose 50th wedding anniversary was marked last September with a family party in the Beach Hotel, Minehead.
Mrs Bath said: “It was an absolutely wonderful time. There were never any worries about anything and no skimping or shortages at all.
“We went through the Panama Canal, which was an absolutely marvellous experience, and we went up Table Mountain, in Capetown, and saw lots of other places.”
The cruise also took in the Mediterranean, Egypt, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Tahiti, New Zealand, Sydney, Mauritius, and other stops.
  • Our photograph shows Richard and Julia Bath, safely home in West Somerset after a round-the-world cruise drama. Photo submitted.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Police dossier grows on rogue photographer

A DOSSIER being compiled by The Post on rogue West Somerset photographer Mark Stothard (pictured, left) has been growing by the day.
The Post has been inundated with calls and emails since revealing in last week’s edition some of the businesses practices of Mr Stothard, who trades under a variety of names, including Mark The Photographer.
The dossier will be handed to the police by The Post’s advertising and marketing manager, Dudley Seale, who contacted the constabulary after the newspaper suffered prolonged harassment by Mr Stothard for money he claimed he was owed.
Since last week, The Post has established that a business calling itself South West Debt Recovery and using a Taunton PO Box number is actually registered to Mr Stothard at one of the accommodation addresses he uses in the county town.
South West Debt Recovery had been purporting to act on behalf of ‘its client’ Mr Stothard and had issued threats of court action and complaints to various authorities, including the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset.
It has also been found that even more county court judgements have been lodged against Mr Stothard’s businesses than previously thought.
It was known that a CCJ for a £12,194 debt was granted in December, shortly before Mr Stothard began billing The Post for sums of nearly £1,000.
Now, The Post has learned of a CCJ for £3,852 in Exeter County Court on April 3, another for nearly £1,000 in Taunton County Court on March 10, while a number of other businesses have said they are in the process of trying to recover money from him.
At least two different website designers - both based in Wales - have said they designed websites for Mr Stothard and had not been fully paid.
One said he was recruited via an advert placed by Mr Stothard on the JobCentre website and was commissioned to work 50 hours a week but had only received one initial payment despite completing an extensive portfolio of four different websites for him.
Another of Mr Stothard’s businesses, Inco IBS Ltd, was found to have seven CCJs totalling more than £8,000, although the company was not trading.
Mr Seale said: “I would urge anybody who has had dealings with Mr Stothard or any of businesses and who feels aggrieved to get in touch with us.”

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Political award for defending country way of life

AN organisation which has championed the lifestyles of people on Exmoor and other rural areas has won a prestigious television award.
The Countryside Alliance, born out of the fight against the hunting ban and the effects of Foot and Mouth Disease, was named ‘the most inspiring political personality’ of the past 10 years in a Channel 4 News political awards programme.
It won the title for ‘its campaigns against the fox hunting ban and its defence of rural life’.
Founding president Baronnes Mallalieu QC and chairman Kate Hoey, MP, accepted the award from actor Jeremy Irons.
Baronnes Mallalieu quoted Shakespeare in describing her own Government as being guilty of the ‘insolence of office’.
She warned future administrations, of whatever colour, that there was ‘unfinished business’ in the countryside.
The ‘inspiring’ category was a special award in the annual political awards to mark Channel 4 News’ 10th anniversary.
Other shortlisted candidates included Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “This win is a great shot in the arm for the Countryside Alliance at the start of 2008.
“It is clear that we were shortlisted primarily because of the hunting issue and our vocal campaigning style.
“Our ongoing tenacity and support for the hunting community will remain at the core of what we do, but Channel 4 also acknowledged our broader reach, naming our ‘defence of rural life’.
“The Countryside Alliance believes that when it comes to the defence of that rural life, it is ‘all of us or none of us’.
“This belief in unity makes the victory all the sweeter, the acclaim is for all of us.
“Everybody who has marched, signed petitions, written to their MP, volunteered or worked for the Alliance, and stoically continued to defend country sports and the rural way of life for the past decade can rightly claim this award as their own.”
The award was voted for by telephone, text, and email to decide the winner.
Spokesman for the Minehead Harriers, Mike Padgett, said: “We are so pleased that the Countryside Alliance has won this prestigious award from Channel 4 for fighting our corner, the fox hunting ban and its defence of rural life.”
  • Our photograph shows Kate Hoey and Simon Hart, of the Countryside Alliance, with their Channel 4 award. Photo submitted.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Everest Base Camp is first stop for Sir Ranulph

EXMOOR adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has arrived at Everest Base Camp to begin his second attempt to climb the world’s highest mountain.
Sir Ranulph, aged 64, who lives near Exford, hopes to raise £3 million for the Marie Curie ‘Delivering Choice Programme’.
It took an eight-day trek through the Sagamarta National Park for Sir Ranulph’s team to reach Base Camp.
He will now begin the long acclimatisation process which will eventually see him make a bid for the summit in May.
Sir Ranulph said: “By the time we first saw Base Camp in the distance it was a very welcome sight.
“Lots of people try to make it to the Everest Base Camp and a lot do not because of the various problems with altitude sickness - not just headaches but sickness.
“I am feeling confident. The feeling of altitude - even walking in light boots from the tents to the mess tent, you are completely out of breath and you wake up in the night with panicky type breathing.
“It does not bode well, but you have to think of each day as it comes and hope that when the leader takes you over the next bit you are up to it.”
Everest Base Camp, at more than 17,600 feet, is perched on a creaking, shifting glacier at the bottom of the notorious Khumbu Icefall.
  • Our photograph shows Sir Ranulph at Everest Base Camp. Photo submitted.

Micro generation grants are now open

THE Building Research Establishment which administers grants on behalf of the Government, has just announced the launch of a new open grants programme as an award from the Big Lottery Fund.
The programme will provide £8m for the installation of micro-generation technologies and energy efficiency measures by community based organisations and £1m for project development grants.
Whilst project development grants will be awarded on a first-come first-served basis the capital grants will be awarded on a competitive basis determined by quarterly selection panels.
Grants will be made to not-for-profit-organisations which will now allow applications by Parish Councils.
This new scheme reinforces the existing grants but uniquely seeks to combine micro-generation of energy with energy efficiency measures.
Edwin Beckett, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, warmly welcomed this announcement which adds to the emphasis which the Trust is giving to the advantages for the communities of Exmoor of sustainable energy.
He said: “The capital grants available under this scheme are considerable – up to £50,000 or 50 per cent whichever is lower.
“Even the project development grants offer up to £5,000 or 75 per cent whichever is lower.
“However there are downsides for systems producing electricity as they want a fairly large output. “There is also a complex application process but the principle benefit appears to be that all production systems have a level playing field.”
Archie McIntyre, who is arranging the Energy for Exmoor event on 2 May at Ralegh’s Cross Inn, is confident that communities seeking more information or clarification about this new grant scheme will be able to get advice from experts.
He added: “The Exmoor Trust has produced a guide to funds available to support the installation of micro-generation systems which will be available at two identical sessions starting at 9 am and 2 pm.
People wishing to guarantee the session of their choice should pre-register on