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Weekly handed £10,000 cheque in ‘cash-for-answers’ challenge

A weekly newspaper has been handed a £10,000 cheque to use as it wishes if it manages to get one it its local MPs to answer a question for a reader.

The Weston Mercury has been given the cheque by private investigator Paul Arnold, who says he has spent 15 years chasing clarification of a law change which put his previous firm out of business.

He contacted his local paper with the challenge and the Archant title issued its own front-page challenge to local MPs to answer Paul’s question – with the £10,000 pledged to charity if they do so.

The challenge asks local MPs to provide “a broad terms explanation of the Trading Schemes Act 1996, and which trading schemes are covered by the act”.

Paul Arnold is pictured with the £10,000 cheque.

Editor Judi Kisiel said: “I am really hoping that one of the politicians comes up trumps…it would be great to distribute the cash to local charities.”

Paul said that he had written to current and former MPs John Penrose, Brian Cotter, Tessa Munt and David Heathcoat-Amory numerous times to ask for one but was still unclear about the law.

The Act was introduced to ban controversial pyramid schemes after scores of people lost money but clumsy phraseology mean some legitimate commercial franchises were inadvertently outlawed too, including Paul’s Chem-Dry carpet-cleaning business.

Behind-closed-doors meetings and confidential memos have since seen parts of the legislation informally relaxed in practice.

Said Paul: “These MPs have been no better than a postman; all they do is relay to their constituents what a faceless civil servant in Whitehall wants them to relay.

“But politicians should be able to get a broad term explanation in 10 years. This is a law which people are meant to live by – how can we if they can’t explain it to us?”

Paul said he had spent £40,000 on legal fees and door-stepped prominent Government figures like Vince Cable and Ed Davey to try to get a definitive explanation of the current legal position.

A top franchise lawyer has been approached to assess the validity of any responses to Paul’s question, and the cheque will remain with the Mercury until then.