Free Press in furious row with ex-C4 boss - Press Gazette

Free Press in furious row with ex-C4 boss

Wilson: denied vested interest in Free Press editorial line

A bitter environmental row on the Isle of Skye has led to the local weekly newspaper being accused of having a vested interest because of the involvement of its former owner, energy minister Brian Wilson.

The row is over plans to build a 27-turbine wind farm at Edinbane, which has already been backed by the Highland Regional Council planning committee.

At the centre of the dispute is former Channel Four boss Sir Jeremy Isaacs and his wife, Lady Gillian Widdecombe, who have a home in Edinbane. They led the campaign against the West Highland Free Press, which carried an editorial asking: "Is this the most brass-necked couple in Britain?"

The newspaper accused Isaacs and his wife of using their national media contacts, including Channel Four, to mount a high-profile campaign against the wind farm, which it claims is supported by the majority of people on Skye.

The Free Press is a pro-Labour newspaper which was founded and formerly part-owned by Wilson, who still retains close links with it.

The editorial claimed: "The Isaacs’ campaign has been founded on the time-honoured methods of the metropolitan aristocracy: pulling in favours and trading on their names. Skye is not Sir Jeremy’s island any more than it is ours. There are thousands of people better qualified to speak for it than he is – about this or any other subject. Their voices deserve to be heard, even if they do not have access to the network which the Isaacs have exploited so ruthlessly."

Isaacs and his supporters retaliated by claiming the Free Press was less interested in the economic concerns of locals than in progressing the political aims of Wilson, whose targets for renewable energy depend on the go-ahead for projects such as the Edinbane windfarm.

John Hodgson, a spokesman for the Skye Windfarm Action Group, said: "The Free Press is still Wilson’s mouthpiece – it is disgraceful that it can print articles which are prejudicing the planning inquiry."

Isaacs added: "It’s extraordinary and unfortunate that a local paper should be so obsessed with personalities, rather than the single biggest issue to hit Skye.

"It is nonsense to say there’s anything arrogant about my behaviour. If by arrogant they mean I don’t fall over when Wilson says ‘boo’, then I am guilty of that."

By Hamish Mackay