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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 20:35 GMT
Developer 'gave gifts to councillors'
Nottingham Crown Court
The trial is being held at Nottingham Crown Court
A property developer gave money and a farmhouse to councillors who were able to help him win planning permission to build houses on countryside sites, a court has heard.

Alan Hughes is one of seven people appearing before Nottingham Crown Court on charges of corruption.

Also in the dock is the former Labour deputy leader of Doncaster Council, Ray Stockhill, former Labour planning chairman Peter Birks, the current Tory group leader John Dainty.

They all denied charges of corruption on the opening day of the trial on Tuesday.

The payments ran to many thousands of pounds

David Farrer QC

Mr Stockhill's daughter Janet Jones, financial adviser Gordon Armitage and Mr Birks's partner Stephanie Higginson have all pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting corruption.

Mr Hughes is alleged to have given money, and a farmhouse, to councillors in the early 1990s.

Doncaster Council was in the process of preparing a long-term strategic plan on sites which were likely to be designated as countryside at the time.

David Farrer QC, prosecuting, told the jury all seven had been involved in a deception involving the exchange of cash and gifts for helping Mr Hughes with obtaining favourable planning decisions on land.

He said Mr Hughes had given cash to Mr Stockhill, Mr Dainty and Mr Birks and that a farmhouse valued at 130,000 had also been given to Mr Birks and his partner Ms Higginson.

Payment record

Mr Farrer said: "The payments ran to many thousands of pounds.

"In the case of Mr Stockhill it was almost like he was on a part-time payroll."

He described how, after police began investigating, they found a series of "fabrications which were crudely designed" to disguise the fact that Mr Hughes had given the farmhouse to Mr Birks and Ms Higginson.

When police searched the property they discovered a small black book which it was claimed was a record of mortgage payments to Mr Hughes by Mr Birks and Ms Higginson during 1994.

Mr Farrer said: "The entries on the first three pages have, as one would expect been filed using different coloured pens.

Influence decisions

"If that is a genuine record then it goes a long way to say that this was a sale and not a corrupt gift."

But he added: "However, when enquiries were made of the makers of the note book it appeared that particular type did not become available until 1996."

Mr Hughes, 63, of Bawtry Road, Bessacarr, Doncaster, pleads not guilty to three counts of corruption involving payments made to Mr Dainty, Mr Stockhill and the gift of a farmhouse to Mr Birks in return for influencing planning applications.

Mr Stockhill, 68, of Cedar Grove, Stainforth, Doncaster, pleaded not guilty to corruptly receiving payments from Mr Hughes.

Ms Jones, 36, of Mitchell Close, Dunscroft, Doncaster, pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the payments.

Tory leader Mr Dainty, 59, of Bank End Road, Blaxton, Doncaster, pleaded not guilty to corruptly receiving payments from Mr Hughes.

Mr Birks, 58, of Stockbridge Lane, Bentley, Doncaster, pleaded not guilty to corruptly receiving the gift of Stockbridge Farm, in Stockbridge Lane, from Mr Hughes.

His partner Stephanie Higginson, 50, also of Stockbridge Lane, and Mr Armitage, 62, of Stubben Edge Lane, Littlemoor, Chesterfield, pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the corrupt gift.

The case, which is expected to last up to three months, continues on Wednesday.

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