TV angler and wife quit conservation group in row over fund use

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The Independent Online

To millions of armchair anglers, Bob James is the face of British fishing. Starring in the television series, Passion for Angling, he steered 18 million devotees through the intricacies of spinners and the joys of casting into a still pond on a dewy morning.

To millions of armchair anglers, Bob James is the face of British fishing. Starring in the television series, Passion for Angling, he steered 18 million devotees through the intricacies of spinners and the joys of casting into a still pond on a dewy morning.

When he joined forces with the Anglers' Conservation Association, the respected body which for 55 years has quietly gone about its business of prosecuting polluters of Britain's watercourses, it was assumed to be a good omen for the nation's most popular participation sport.

Not any more. Ripples of consternation ran through the sedate world of British angling yesterday after it was announced that Mr James and his wife Jane, the ACA's director for 18 years, were leaving the organisation after an argument over allegations against them of misconduct.

The high-profile departures were described as a blow to the prestige of the ACA, whose patron is the Duke of Edinburgh, and whose president is Chris Tarrant, the presenter of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Other celebrities are among its 13,000 members.

In a terse statement, the ACA announced that the Jameses and its trustees had decided "that is in the best interests of the sport of angling that they should part company and have agreed to do so by way of mutual agreement".

The details of the dispute and the severance terms were last night the subject of a binding confidentiality agreement.

But The Independent has learnt that prior to their departure the couple were the subject of an internal investigation after a range of accusations were levelled against them, including the alleged theft of a 90p stamp and benefiting from a £400 printing bill.

The allegations threaten to split the world of angling, which has four million active participants who each spend an average of £1,000 a year on their hobby, making it one of the most lucrative sports in the country.

Friends of Mr James, whose partnership with fellow angler Chris Yates in BBC2's Passion for Angling made them Britain's best-known fishermen as they toured the nation, yesterday described the claims as "ludicrous".

One colleague, a senior figure in angling, said: "Bob and Jane have dedicated many years to the ACA and they have been effectively hounded out on trumped-up charges.

"One claim was that Bob stole a stamp worth less than a pound. It's ridiculous given that over the years he has given many hours beyond his contract and thousands of pounds worth of equipment in the name of the ACA."

It is understood that Mr James, who worked three days a week as the ACA's press officer, attended a disciplinary hearing last month at the body's headquarters at Leominster, Herefordshire, to answer questions about the £400 printing bill for leaflets advertising his fishing business.

Sources familiar with the case said that the couple had been "naïve" in allowing the leaflets to be printed but insisted there had been no dishonesty. The ACA declined to comment on whether its disciplinary committee had formally found against the couple.

Mr James, 47, said yesterday he was saddened by the episode, after eight years working with the ACA, and that he had fallen foul of a wider jealousy in the world of angling. Fishing yesterday with his close friend Mr Tarrant, he said: "Both my wife and I are very sad that it came to this. We absolutely deny that we did anything wrong. But there are lots of people out there who have become green-eyed monsters.

"They see what I did on TV and they become jealous. Among the more ridiculous -rumours I've had to deal with is that my wife and I are so wealthy that we own Range Rovers with matching number plates. Actually I own a five-year-old Saab."

The fisherman, who found himself in the pages of The News of the World eight years ago when his affair with Jane and their subsequent marriage was made public, said he would now be concentrating on writing, and a new television project.

But there were signs of further fall-out from the argument for the ACA after at least one member of its governing council, Mick Watson, resigned this week over the affair.

Mr Watson has joined ACA members calling for an emergency general meeting about the direction of the body, which was founded in 1949 to seek compensation for fisheries affected by pollution and other forms of damage. It has so far won more than 2,000 cases, netting damages worth more than £2m.

Mr Watson said: "A lot of people are angry and concerned that the ACA is being distracted from its true purpose. Events like those of this week do not help that impression."

The ACA dismissed the claim. Karen Capper, the body's head of legal affairs, said: "Any suggestion we are in decline could not be further from the truth. We are continuing to defend the interests of anglers and go from strength to strength."

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