Edmonds to testify in Blobby fiasco

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The Independent Online

Noel Edmonds, the entertainer turned multi-millionaire businessman, is to be interviewed by the district auditor over the collapse of a theme park based upon Mr Blobby, the over-sized, pink and yellow-spotted slapstick star of his 1990s television show.

Noel Edmonds, the entertainer turned multi-millionaire businessman, is to be interviewed by the district auditor over the collapse of a theme park based upon Mr Blobby, the over-sized, pink and yellow-spotted slapstick star of his 1990s television show.

Mr Edmonds' evidence will form a vital part of a two-year investigation into the actions of a group of councillors and council officials who negotiated the deal to open the World of Crinkley Bottom in the Lancashire resort of Morecambe.

Councillors on Lancaster City Council, the local authority responsible for Morecambe, are accused of wasting £2m of taxpayers' money, including an estimated £1m on a costly, failed legal action brought against Mr Edmonds.

If found accountable for the fiasco, dubbed Blobbygate, council representatives are liable to be surcharged for at least part of that sum. The district auditor's investigation has so far cost £400,000.

Blobbygate dates back to 1994 when Mr Edmonds signed an agreement with Lancaster City Council to open the World of Crinkley Bottom, named after the fictional setting of his Noel's House Party TV show.

But the Morecambe theme park closed after just seven weeks with Mr Edmonds, who describes Blobbygate as "the greatest local government scandal of modern times", facing a council lawsuit blaming him for its collapse. That lawsuit was settled with Mr Edmonds paid almost £1m plus legal costs for money owed for the remainder of his contract.

Mr Edmonds said: "The manner in which they terminated the agreement was damaging, both to myself and to the Blobby character."

That Blobbygate has not yet been laid to rest is thanks to Mike Ford, a local resident who registered a formal objection in 1998 to the council's accounts. Mr Ford said: "When the settlement with Noel Edmonds was announced and the leader of the council said it had cost taxpayers £2m but nobody had done anything wrong, I felt that was inconceivable. After I made one or two inquiries, It became clear that quite a number of seriously wrong things had been done."

Blobbygate's "smoking gun", he said, is a letter which the council wanted Mr Edmonds to sign when the contract was agreed which, in the event of the theme park failing, would have obliged him to share the cost. Instead, when the World of Crinkley Bottom collapsed, Mr Edmonds claimed still to be owed his £1m fee. In turn, the council began legal action blaming the failure of the attraction on Mr Edmonds' lack of interest and, more improbably, Mr Blobby for his lack of corpulence, bizarrely accusing Mr Edmonds of supplying an underweight Mr Blobby to the theme park. In 1996, the council settled out of court with Mr Edmonds, paying him the full balance of his fee.

Councillors and officials have protested that, rather than a scandal, Blobbygate was a business deal which went awry. Hilton Dawson, former deputy leader of the council and now the local MP, said: "People are entitled to raise questions on specific issues. I have no difficulties with the investigation. I just don't think anyone did anything wrong."

Mike Jones, the council's former deputy chief executive and now head of contract services, said: "The district auditor has a duty to investigate these objections and we've been expecting his public interest report for a while."

Neither Mr Hilton nor Mr Jones are part of the investigation, which is understood to centre on a number of officials and two councillors - former leader Stanley Henig and Ian Barker.

Clive Portman, the district auditor for Liverpool, may see things differently. If Mr Ford's claim is upheld, he could surcharge those judged to be to blame, millions of pounds.

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