Shareholders urge Eurotunnel board to reject Hewitt

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The Independent Online

Shareholders in Eurotunnel have objected to the proposed appointment of Patricia Hewitt, Labour's ex-health secretary, as a non-executive director after she appeared on the Dispatches television programme last week offering her lobbying services to a fictitious US consultancy.

One shareholder, who has written to the board to complain, said the way Ms Hewitt portrayed herself was "scandalous", and showed a serious error of judgement. He said he would be voting against her nomination at the annual meeting on 26 May.

Around half of the shares in Eurotunnel are still owned by about 500,000 private investors who may be more influenced by the political fall-out from the Dispatches sting than its big institutional shareholders, which include Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, the Prudential and M&G, which hold the balance.

Channel Four's documentary, "Politicians for Hire", filmed Ms Hewitt and former ministers Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers offering their services to an imaginary advisory board through an undercover reporter. All three have been suspended by the Parliamentary Labour Party.

A Eurotunnel spokesman confirmed that a number of small shareholders had written to the Channel Tunnel rail company expressing their misquiet about Ms Hewitt joining the board. He said: "We have had many letters both for and against Ms Hewitt's appointment. Several of them object to the nomination and have said they will vote against. Most of the objections focus on what the programme revealed about her judgement in openly admitting how to lobby ministers."

But the spokesman added: "Eurotunnel believes Ms Hewitt's broad business and political experience will make her a good non-executive. We've still got two months to go before the vote so a lot of water has yet to pass under the bridge."

He said suggestions being made on Lobbydog, an internet site, by bloggers that all the companies where Ms Hewitt worked (Boots, BT and Cinven) should be boycotted, were unlikely to have an impact. "We are an international company but we will have to wait and see what happens."