Sutton Harbour threatens to sue group bidding to reopen Plymouth City Airport
THE owner of Plymouth's closed airport has threatened to sue the group bidding to reopen it over comments made on a website.
Sutton Harbour Holdings (SHH) has accused Viable Plymouth Ltd, which wants to restart flights, of libelling it and its directors in material published online.
It said words used suggested "allegations of bad management" and falsely allege directors are "dishonest and profligate" in their management of the company's affairs.
Lawyers at Bristol's Clarke Willmott LLP wrote to Viable demanding the material was removed from its site and a retraction and apology published.
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They also want Viable to promise not to publish anything similar and to pay legal costs, with the threat to start court proceedings if they don't get a satisfactory answer.
But Viable denies it has done anything wrong and claimed the comments on its website were fair and honest opinion based on facts central to the argument for the airport's closure and therefore in the public interest.
It also said it would be "eliminated" if it had to pay SHH's legal costs.
Viable told SHH it had until 4pm yesterday to withdraw the demands and any suggestion of legal action and pay the costs of its own lawyers, Plymouth's Enigma Solicitors.
Viable said that if the demands are not withdrawn it expects to be sent a properly drawn up claim, effectively starting court action.
Viable director Raoul Witherall said the company was prepared to see the issue dealt with in court.
"Are we going to pack up and go home? I don't think so," he said. "We will fight and take it to trial."
He said the materials at the centre of the dispute had been removed from Viable's website "as a precaution" but added: "We intend to reinstate them. We will put them back up; we are not retracting."
He added: "We published forensic analysis of the accounts that are key. What we have published is really important."
He said a court hearing would give Viable the opportunity to claim access to other documents including any commercial agreement relating to the 2007 decision by Plymouth City Council to allow SHH to sell 22 acres of surplus land at the airport site.
"If it goes to court it will mean full disclosure of relevant documents," Mr Witherall said.
SHH, which holds the 150-year lease of the 104-acre airport site, shut the facility exactly a year ago saying not enough people used it to make it a financial proposition.
The Viable company was formed by people unhappy with SHH's decision.
It has formed its own business plan for the airport and Mr Witherall said Viable had made Plymouth City Council "a formal offer" to acquire the freehold of the Roborough site.
"This is local people trying to do their bit for the local economy," Mr Witherall said. "Our long-term aim is to see the airport reopened.
"We are a special purpose vehicle and can raise the finance."
A SHH spokesman said: "We felt it necessary to instruct our lawyers to write to Viable demanding the removal of certain articles from their website which we felt were both inaccurate and potentially defamatory.
"Those articles have now been removed. We have no further comment to make at this time."
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