Irate former Sea Lord brands Portillo 'a little creep'

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The Independent Online

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, was branded "a little creep" yesterday by a retired Sea Lord enraged by the impending sale of some of Britain's great and historic naval monuments.

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton fiercely criticised plans to dispose of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, the Old Admiralty and Admiralty Arch.

"I trust those nearer the seat of power will put up a robust defence. Admiralty Arch is an extremely historic building and Old Admiralty even more so. It contains the Nelson Room and the Admiralty Boardroom, both of which are intrinsic parts of our maritime heritage. I would have thought that even a little creep like Mr Portillo would have understood that."

Lord Hill-Norton, Chief of the Defence Staff 1971-74, said he was not surprised by reports that estate agents had been asked to value Admiralty Arch, coming after the announcement of the sale of the Royal Naval College.

In a reference to spending cuts at the Ministry of Defence, he said: "If you reach a situation, which we have reached, where defence is run by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this is what you expect." Lord Hill- Norton's comments came as reports circulated of the sale of Admiralty Arch, possibly to a foreign buyer, for up to pounds 9m.

The MoD has invited estate agents to value the arch, which serves as a portal to the Mall and has a superb view of Buckingham Palace on one side and of Trafalgar Square on the other.

Two years ago MoD staff vacated the arch, built in 1910 as part of the Queen Victoria memorial scheme. But it still contains the official residence of the First Sea Lord, at present Sir Jock Slater.

With the Royal Naval College the arch holds great historical significance for navy personnel, who are furious about the proposed sales.

The 18th-century Old Admiralty, which is in Whitehall, saw the planning of Britain's naval strategy against France.

The Royal Naval College has been linked with the Navy for 300 years, first as a naval hospital and later as a training college. Nelson's body lay in state there after Trafalgar, and it was where the Duke of York and the Duke of Edinburgh received their naval education.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that the estate agent Knight Frank had been asked to come up with proposals for the future of Admiralty Arch. Schemes could include: "Anything and any kind of private finance initiative," he said. It was also possible that another government department could take it over.

An MoD spokesman would not comment on Lord Hill-Norton's remarks: "This was said by somebody who is not now part of the ministry and we don't make any reaction to discourtesies of that kind."