MoD to sell off mansion that cost RAF chief his career

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Chief Political Correspondent

A "des res" recently refurbished at a cost of pounds 380,000 is to be put on the open market by the Ministry of Defence, Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, told MPs yesterday.

Haymes Garth in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, is expected to raise pounds 500,000 for the taxpayer when it is put on the market at the end of the year. For potential buyers, the house could be a bargain. It has 12 rooms with 20 large windows, which have been fitted with new curtains at a cost of pounds 35,000.

A princely pounds 30,000 was spent on carpets. No expense was spared in fitting out the house for entertaining by its former occupants, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sandy Wilson, 54, and his wife.

But potential purchasers may be put off by the thought that the house cost Sir Sandy his career and could lead to dozens of other senior officers' residences being sold. Sir Sandy was forced to resign from the RAF last year, with a pounds 50,000-a-year pension and pounds 150,000 lump sum, by Malcolm Rifkind, the former Secretary of State, after the lavish refurbishment caused a political storm.

Mr Portillo has raised the hackles of senior officers by planning to sell off houses in the wake of the Haymes Garth controversy. It is currently occupied by Air Marshal David Cousins, the Air Officer Commander in Chief, Personnel and Training Command. Mr Portillo announced it would be sold when he moves into another residence adjacent to his headquarters, occupied by Air Vice Marshal John May, the Air Officer Training. That will not be until Air Vice Marshal May completes his tour of duty. The MoD said last night it would be "towards the end of the year".

The housing market may have picked up by then, but the taxpayer cannot expect to make a killing. In addition to the cost of refurbishments, the row led to a pounds 100,000 auditor's report into the disposal of MoD property. David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, said: "It is another example of a gross waste of taxpayer's money. It will mean the taxpayer will lose a lot of money on it."

t Sir John Bourn, the Auditor General, today reports that overpayments of pounds 19.8m in taxpayers' money have been paid by the Department of Education and Employment to Training and Enterprise Councils, including pounds 7.9m for training weeks which were ineligible.