Commons printer jailed for corruption

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Westminster Correspondent

House of Commons notepaper, embossed with the distinctive portcullis design, is being printed by a company in Wales whose former chairman has just served a prison sentence for bribing a senior government official, it emerged yesterday.

Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, said she would refer the contract with Cardiff firm, Wilprint, to the Serjeant at Arms, the chief Commons official.

In October last year, Keith Gordon Wilson, then chairman and managing director of Wilprint, his family business which employs 50 people, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment at Cardiff Crown Court for giving two cars to a Welsh Office official in charge of handing out printing contracts.

In January this year, Mr Wilson successfully appealed against sentence, which was brought down to four months. He was released from prison and has since remained unemployed while Wilprint is run by his wife, Hilda.

The court heard that John Bennett at the Welsh Office gave pounds 400,000 in printing contracts - 30 per cent of his pounds 1.3m budget - to Wilprint over two years after being bribed with a Ford Sierra and a Ford Escort.

Mr Bennett was information manager at the Welsh Office in Cardiff and organised the printing work. In a two-year period, Wilprint received two and a half times more than its nearest competitor and, said the prosecution, almost as much as the other contractors put together.

The gift of the cars came to light in 1992 after another printer complained of not getting work. Officials ordered an internal inquiry headed by a former senior police officer. Ownership of the cars was checked and traced to Mr Bennett. Wilprint also paid the tax and insurance. Mr Bennett was convicted alongside Mr Wilson and received the same nine- month sentence, reduced on appeal to four months.

Rhodri Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff West, raised the question of the Commons stationery in Parliament yesterday. "The proprietor [of Wilprint] was sent down for corruption for four months just before Christmas and came out in January," Mr Morgan said.

The MP asked Ms Boothroyd: "Since the portcullis of this House and all our proceedings have to be seen to be totally above board and free from even the most indirect hint or taint of corruption, could you explain to me how I should draw this to the attention of the proper authorities, so that we can see that the portcullis of this House and the notepaper on which we write shall always be seen to carry the respect which we always thought it had?"

At Wilprint, David Virgin, the sales manager, refused to discuss the Commons order or how long the company had had the business, claiming it was bound by a confidentiality clause with HMSO.

Mr Virgin confirmed that Mr Wilson had relinquished his role in the firm. "After what happened he is not involved in the business." He accused Mr Morgan of "running the risk of damaging the people who work here" by raising the Commons order at Westminster.