Sunday, October 25, 1998 Published at 15:29 GMT
Minister denies cronyism allegation
Alan Meale denies acting improperly over the deal
A government environment minister has denied acting improperly after being accused of lobbying on behalf of a friend who wants to develop a £14m sports complex on greenbelt land.
The proposal includes a new stadium for Barnet Football Club, whose chairman Tony Kleanthous met Mr Meale three years ago.
Mr Meale, a keen Mansfield Town follower, has denied anything improper and said he was simply acting in his capacity as a football fan.
But Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram has accused the minister of "unacceptable cronyism" and "extraordinary and outrageous" conduct.
He called for Mr Meale to step down if he could not provide an "immediate, full and credible" explanation for his activities.
The original allegations were printed in the Sunday Times newspaper. It said Barnet's chairman, a millionaire Greek-Cypriot businessman, struck up a friendship with Mr Meale after a game between Barnet and Mansfield in 1995.
Barnet have been told by the Football League they must find a new ground to replace their current Underhill stadium, because of crowd capacity problems.
The paper said Mr Meale began lobbying for the scheme earlier this year when he was parliamentary private secretary to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
He was later promoted to minister in Mr Prescott's Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is ultimately responsible for all planning applications.
The inspector's report on the application is now due to go to Mr Prescott for a decision.
The Sunday Times said Mr Meale had links with Britain's Greek-Cypriot community which, it said, had paid for him and his wife to go on trips to Cyprus. It said Greek-Cypriot lobbying groups have donated thousands of pounds to Labour.
He said: "This is just a classic character assassination based on innuendo. There is nothing to support the implied accusations other than the fact that my parents were born in Cyprus."
Mr Kleanthous said the planning application was for a community stadium and he said Mr Meale had simply acted out of sympathy for Barnet's plight.
The Barnet chairman denied he had improperly lobbied anyone.
Mr Ancram said: "This story discloses the most disturbing evidence of unacceptable cronyism that we have seen so far."
"The public are owed an immediate and full explanation, including full details of what Mr Meale has done, what his relationship with Mr Kleanthous is, whether he has personally received any generosity from him and, if so, when.
"This story raises the most serious doubts about the integrity of the government. We must either have an immediate, full and credible explanation or Mr Meale must resign."
UK Politics Contents
A-Z of Parliament