Lucrative development in Durham at heart of row

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Indy Politics

The resignation of Peter Watt may not be the final twist in the story of the van driver and the property developer's secretary who became the third-biggest donors to the Labour Party.

Ray Ruddick, 55, who lives in a former council house in Newcastle, and Janet Kidd, 56, of Gateshead, are also listed as the unlikely directors of a property company called Durham Green Developments, which stands to make a fortune after winning consent for a vast business park near Durham.

It emerged yesterday that David Abrahams, the publicity-shy developer who asked Ms Kidd and Mr Ruddick to donate his £600,000 to Labour, is also behind the planning application.

A spokesman for Durham City Council confirmed that Mr Abrahams was directly involved in the negotiations – but had used the name David Martin.

Mr Abrahams' full name is David Martin Abrahams but he is known to use "David Martin" in business dealings at the request of his late father.

"It has always been David Martin dealing with the planning department," said the council spokesman. "He goes by two names."

A former Labour politician who has known Mr Abrahams since he was a teenager yesterday called him "something of a Walter Mitty". Others who know him say he is eccentric, reclusive and generous in his donations to charity.

Official records appear to show he was born in Newcastle in 1944, although Mr Abrahams says he was born in 1954.

He initially made his living as a private landlord, known to his tenants as David Martin, but, as the son of a former Lord Mayor of Newcastle, he also had an eye on a career in politics.

He followed his parents, Bennie and Marion, onto Tyne and Wear Metropolitan County Council, but lost his seat in 1981.

His father died in 1990, and a year later Mr Abrahams won the nomination as Labour's candidate to run against William Hague in the North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond.

But he was dumped when it was revealed that a woman and young boy who had accompanied him to the selection meeting were not his wife and son, as he had claimed.

In fact he was not married at all, and the woman, a blonde divorcee called Anthea Bailey, later went to a regional newspaper saying that she and her 11-year-old son had gone along to the meeting withMr Abrahams to "boost his image".

She had agreed to get engaged to him as "a business arrangement" so he could "create the right impression" at the selection meeting and in discussions with the local party chairman, she said. Mr Abrahams had also told the panel he was 41, when he was 46, and that he was an administrator, when he was really a wealty North-east property developer going under a different name.

Mr Abrahams survived the deselection meeting by one vote, upon which his agent, press officer, chairman, two vice-chairmen, treasurer and secretary resigned in protest. He was finally deselected in a second vote.

He stood again in the mid-1990s for selection as Labour candidate for Wansbeck, a safe seat, but did not get through.

Durham Green Developments was given the go-ahead to build a 540-acre park near junction 61 of the A1 at Bowburn, south of Durham city, which could create more than 5,000 jobs.

The granting of consent was delayed by an order from the Highways Agency in 2004 amid fears the project would increase congestion. Durham City Council's spokesman added: "It could make a fortune. It is on prime land. The planning application was initially turned down when it was submitted in 2004 because of insufficient road access to the A1.

"The first phase of the plans for 500,000sq ft of office space has been completed and plans for the second major phase are due to be submitted before Christmas. It's very important for the local economy."

There is no suggestion that Mr Abrahams' donations to Labour were linked to the planning approval. A newspaper report at the time described Mr Ruddick as a "site co-ordinator" for Durham Green Developments. He reportedly told the Newcastle Journal: "It has taken us two years of negotiating ... to get through the planning stage.

"I understand the issue of congestion needs to be looked at carefully when a new development is put forward but it needs to be done sensibly.

"If developments such as our business park are blocked, the region as a whole will suffer."