Short's department accused of hypocrisy after using tropical wood for offices

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The Independent Online

A second Whitehall office has been refurbished using uncertified wood from an African rainforest, the Government admitted last night.

Environmental groups reacted with dismay after Clare Short's Department for International Development, which has championed a clampdown on the illicit timber trade, said it had used tropical sapele wood in a Westminster building.

The department insisted it was forced to use the wood to comply with rules governing the refurbishment of historic buildings. Sapele, which comes from endangered tropical forests in Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, is often used as a substitute for mahogany despite protests from environmentalists that it cannot be accurately sourced.

It was used to make veneers for two doors in the recently refurbished 1 Palace Street building, near Victoria station.

The news follows a humiliating episode for the Government over the use of the same type of wood in the Cabinet Office. Greenpeace activists invaded the building in protest.

Andy Tait, of Greenpeace, said: "It is particularly depressing and ironic that the Department for International Development, who have been at the forefront of government action to tackle the illegal timber trade, should refurbish their own offices from timber with links to massive criminality and the illegal bushmeat trade in Central Africa."

"How can the Government credibly lead international action to tackle ancient forest destruction when its own timber buying is directly contributing to that destruction?"

The department said the African timber was used in the grade II listed part of the building. It was told by local planning officers that because the building was listed the wood must match. A spokeswoman for Ms Short said the department had checked out the company that supplied the wood and found it had one of the best records in its field on sustainable logging.

"From what we can see this is old stock," she said. "The Government has made it clear that whenever possible we would not use listed wood. The reason we chose this wood is that national heritage insisted on an exact match."

But opposition MPs accused ministers of "hypocrisy". Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, said the Government should "practise what it preaches". Malcolm Bruce, the Lib Dem Environment spokesman, said: "If there is a question over the type of wood it shouldn't be used."

The timber was supplied by a company called Shadbolt, which said it used old stocks of sapele wood, with permission from the Worldwide Fund for Nature. The company is a member of a group of suppliers that co-operates with the WWF.

But the WWF confirmed that the sapele wood used by the Department for International Development was not certified.

"Wood used by the Government should come from a sustainable source," said a spokeswoman. "This wood wasn't certified by the Forest Stewardship Council."