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Johnson claims ignorance over journalist behind ‘horrendous’ Garden Bridge reporting

Boris johnson
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The Foreign Secretary and ex-London mayor has claimed he is unsure of the source of ‘horrendous’ and ‘abusive’ Garden Bridge reporting he has previously and publicly attributed to the AJ

During Boris Johnson’s appearance last month at a London Assembly hearing, he complained that the AJ had published ‘allegations of corruption’ and ‘insinuations’ involving Transport for London (TfL) officers, motivated ‘by a dislike that … the [AJ] journalist concerned has – of Thomas Heatherwick, who is not conceived of as being a proper architect and is therefore somehow worthy of abuse.’

Given his long-running Garden Bridge investigation, this was universally seen as an attack on the AJ managing editor Will Hurst, and Hurst has now responded to Johnson’s latest letter with a letter of his own.

In the wake of the appearance, shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne wrote to the foreign secretary, saying that Johnson had brought Hurst’s professional integrity into question and calling on him to withdraw his comments and apologise or put forward evidence for them.

But in a reply to Gwynne sent on 9 April and seen by the AJ, Johnson wrote: ‘You raised Mr Hurst by name. I did not. I am afraid I cannot say whether or not Mr Hurst was responsible for the copy that has been repeatedly mentioned to me.’

Johnson also refused to answer Gwynne’s question on the role played by Johnson’s office ‘in the reckless decision’ to release public funds for the Garden Bridge construction contract’, including a £7 million tranche of funding from TfL in February 2016.

The foreign secretary claimed the answers to such questions had been ‘answered extensively’ by his own appearances at the London Assembly and by the audits and reports carried out by organisations including TfL and the National Audit Office.

Johnson told Gwynne his recent appearance at City Hall had been a ‘pleasure’ and wrote: ‘I’m only sad that a project that enjoyed significant support from Londoners won’t now adorn the London skyline, or provide residents, commuters and tourists alike with a haven of peace and green space in the heart of the city.’

Speaking to the AJ, Gwynne said: ‘This is not a time for obfuscation, taxpayers deserve real answers on how this money was spent. But instead of answering questions about possible irregularities, Boris Johnson has attacked those who have continued to ask questions about the reckless management and the role he played during his mayoralty.  

‘Questions need to be asked why this project was allowed to spiral out of control.’ 

Boris letter to andrew

Boris letter to andrew

In a separate development, the charities regulator has allowed the Garden Bridge Trust – which is currently being wound up after spending the bulk of the estimated £46 million of public money spent on the unbuilt bridge – to submit heavily overdue accounts in an unaudited state due to ‘exceptional circumstances’.

As of yesterday, the accounts were 90 days overdue but a letter sent by the commission’s deputy chief executive David Holdsworth, and seen by the AJ, makes clear that the commission has yet to follow through on its threat to take ‘regulatory action’ against the trust.

In the letter, replying to Lambeth councillors Jen Mosley and Kevin Craig, Holdsworth said that the regulator had recently met with the trust and now understood ‘there are commercial sensitivities that must be taken into account in the compiling and publishing of the accounts arising from the winding up process’.

Holdsworth added: ‘Accounts are normally prepared on a going-concern basis assuming that the charity is planning to continue its activities. However, we have accepted that the accounts preparation on a break-up basis involves a different approach. The main differences arise in the identification, estimation, valuation or measurement of the charity’s assets and liabilities at the balance sheet date.’

The AJ understands that the trust did submit unaudited accounts to the commission by a deadline of 25 April, that it is still required to submit audited accounts at a later date and that the regulator continues to consider regulatory action.

The minutes of the trust’s board meetings – obtained by TfL after a long struggle on 28 February – have still not been made public by TfL, more than two months on.

At the time, TfL said it was checking that redactions made to the minutes by the trust were appropriate.

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