Inquiry into 'rainforest timber' used in Whitehall

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Parliament's environmental watchdog is to investigate claims that illegally logged timber from a threatened rainforest was used in the refurbishment of government offices.

A spokesman for the Environmental Audit Committee said yesterday that it was "highly likely" to be examining evidence from Greenpeace, which stormed the building in protest last week.

The environmental campaigners insisted that the watchdog had launched an inquiry into the matter.

Yesterday Greenpeace activists staged a demonstration aboard a ship carrying timber in the Thames estuary, climbing from speeding boats on to wire ladders suspended from the side of the massive cargo ship as it arrived at Tilbury Docks.

They claimed the consignment included illegally logged Sapele wood identical to – if not destined for – the Government's £22.6m refurbishment. In a pointedly embarrassing message to Tony Blair, the campaigners painted "Gorilla Killers" on the side of the ship.

At the same time, a petition of 30,000 signatures calling on the Government to end the import of illegal timber from ancient forests was handed in at Downing Street.

On Wednesday last week Greenpeace activists stormed the new Cabinet offices to highlight the use of what they claimed was illegal wood. The Prime Minister insisted at question time that their actions were "misconceived". The timber, Mr Blair told the House of Commons, was legal and "certified sustainable".

But the environmental campaigners insisted that leaked documents shown to The Independent proved this was not the case. The rich, dark wood, Sapele – a threatened species – could be sourced directly back to a Hong Kong-owned company, Vicwood-Thanry, and to Cameroon, a country with no independent certification system to prove the timber had been taken from a sustainable source, Greenpeace said.