Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 16th February 2019
Thank you and welcome to my latest Newsletter. Please do forward this on to someone who you think may be interested, and urge them to sign up.
I try and make it non-party-political: it’s about my work as North Devon’s MP.
We've all been shocked by the murders of three elderly gentlemen in Exeter and the subsequent news that the 27-year-old man who's been charged in connection with their deaths has multiple connections to North Devon.
Last night I sent a message of thanks and support to the Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police, thanking his officers and staff for their hard work on the inquiry. I also assured him of the support of our local communities in North Devon who will inevitably have a part to play in this investigation.
There's one important message to get across. It's understandable that people will want to discuss this awful case, particularly where they know the accused or have had connections with him locally. But it's vitally important not to make allegations, comments or claims on social media, or to spread rumours. People may think it's helpful to share such information, but the precise opposite is true.
In legal terms, anyone doing so could be held in contempt of court and be committing a crime by publicising anything that risks prejudicing a future trial. In plain language, it could lead to the collapse of the case.
So, if you have any information about the accused or anything else that you think could help with the investigation, please contact Devon & Cornwall Police on 101.
Our thoughts at this time are with the families and friends of the victims, and the first priority must be to seek justice in court, not conduct trial by social media.
Ilfracombe Infant School
Another major news story in North Devon this week concerns Ilfracombe Infant School. I won't repeat all the details here because the local media have given it widespread coverage.
I've received a copy of correspondence sent to the Ofsted Chief Inspector and the Education Secretary, so I've ensured they are aware of the situation. This is a complex, sensitive and regrettable issue, and in the circumstances it would be wrong to rush to judgement. In that respect, it's another example of an issue where social media has perhaps been less than helpful.
My first priority is to ensure that the concerns of parents are being addressed, because their children's education has to be the most important factor here. So I have asked to meet the headteacher of the school, and that is being arranged at the moment.
I will continue to take a very close interest in this matter, but people will understand that it would be inappropriate to comment further at this sensitive time.
On Tuesday last week I handed the Defence Secretary nearly five thousand letters calling for RMB Chivenor to be saved, following an amazing response from local residents.
You'll remember I sent letters to households around Barnstaple and Braunton last month inviting people to write to the Ministry of Defence demanding a reversal of the decision to close the base, first announced in November 2016.
The response was huge, which just shows the strength of community feeling on this issue. We were asking people to post back a hard copy letter, not just click a button to sign an electronic petition. Normally for this sort of thing you’d expect a pretty low response rate, but frankly we were overwhelmed.
I told the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, that it’s clear North Devon feels as strongly as ever that the decision to close Chivenor was wrong and must be reversed. He committed to take this into account before announcing a final decision. I pressed him to end the uncertainty as soon as possible for the sake of our armed forces families and the wider North Devon economy.
I will keep taking positive action – raising the issue in Parliament, meeting senior ministers and lobbying hard behind the scenes – until we get the outcome North Devon needs.
There are rumours and counter-rumours, but the MoD has confirmed yet again that they're still not ready to announce a final decision, despite making some optimistic noises. That's why the community's campaign must continue.
SW Transport Strategy
Yesterday the government published its transport strategy for our region. Officially called 'Investing in the South West', it sets out a programme of spending totalling £2billion targeted at supporting growth and prosperity.
One of the key announcements was funding of up to £80million to solve the Dawlish rail problem. It's now five years since the vital link was literally washed away, effectively cutting off the peninsula from the country's rail network. There's now a clear plan to make it resilient for the future, and the money to make it happen.
I was delighted of course that a section of the strategy report was devoted to the North Devon Link Road. It confirms the government's commitment, announced last summer, to fund major improvements to the A361. Work is well on track to begin next year.
This shows just how far we've come to put North Devon on the map. We haven't received this level of funding or this much attention from the decision-makers for many years, and I'll work hard to ensure that continues.
You can read more about 'Investing in the South West' here:
The need for better connectivity to promote economic growth in the SW was one of the main themes of a parliamentary debate last week. Several MPs from our region called for more investment in our region, and of course I made sure that North Devon's voice was heard.
You can see my speech here:
Then, last Friday, I was in Westminster to help several important Private Members' Bills make progress. The first was what's become know as Finn's law. Finn is the police dog who was stabbed by a fleeing criminal, but continued to protect his handler and help detain the man.
The case highlighted a gap in the law: there's no specific offence of harming a police dog or other service animal. That's now being put right. It was great to be able to help the Bill pass its Commons stages, and a delight to actually meet Finn who was there for the occasion, as the photo shows. He's fully recovered from his injuries and is now enjoying a happy retirement.
Also on Friday I made two speeches which you may like to see. The first was supporting a Bill to extend the period over which property looted from Jewish communities during the holocaust can be returned:
The second was in a debate about the establishment of River Authorities as a means to strengthen flood protection. There was a little light-hearted banter about our neighbours in Somerset, but the issue is a serious one. I hope the new proposals will help the many organisations, statutory and otherwise, already working hard on our flood defences in North Devon:
And finally, I used a question to the business minister to highlight North Devon's many fantastic small businesses in the hospitality sector. Tourism is such a vital part of our local economy, and with school half term upon us, I wanted to ensure people knew that we're a great destination for visitors and tourists. My question, and the minister's enthusiastic answer, is here:
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
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