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WATER GATE II; at We find hose RUNNING home dayAFTER Water Minister's 20million hit by ban Row as he claims WE turned it on (we didn't Mr Benyon, but your wife DID turn it off).

Byline: James Davies

WATER minister Richard Benyon was embroiled in a bizarre row last night after The People discovered the hosepipe ban being flouted at his own home.

A 15ft hosepipe was gushing in the grounds of the Tory MP's family estate when we called to see him just a day after the ban came into force for more than 20million taxpayers.

No one was on hand to oversee the hose.

And it was more than two hours before it was finally turned off by the Coalition minister's wife Zoe, who told our reporter: "We are not allowed to use hosepipes here - I have no idea why it is on."

Asked who was responsible for keeping an eye on the hose, she said: "I have no idea. I'm not passing the blame."

Guilty There is no suggestion she or the millionaire minister - who are close friends and neighbours with Kate Middleton's family - had turned on the tap in the grounds of the 20,000-acre estate.

But in an extraordinary twist in the "Watergate Two" story, Mr Benyon has claimed WE were guilty of doing it.

The People can categorically state it was running when our team arrived at stately Englefield House in Mr Benyon's constituency of Newbury, Berks.

We went to see Mr Benyon, who is the great-great grandson of Tory Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, on Good Friday 24 hours after the ban was introduced - with a maximum pounds 1,000 fine for anyone ignoring it.

The hose was running freely as we arrived at the pounds 125million spread, which is owned by Mr Benyon's father Sir William, who had also been a Tory MP.

When the ban came into force Mr Benyon had said in a BBC TV interview: "We've just got to use what water we have as carefully as possible." The People had gone to Englefield House to discuss the crackdown with the Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Our reporter spotted the hose running as soon as he arrived.

He immediately phoned for a photographer to come and had to wait for his colleague to drive to the MP's country retreat.

The hose continued to run for two hours before we knocked on the door of an office at the entrance to report it at about 4.40pm. No one was there.

We then rang a number printed on a nearby notice.

The phone was answered by a man who noted our warning about the hose and said: "Thank you for informing us.

"I will inform our head garden manager straight away. Thank you very much."

But no one immediately rushed to the scene. And it was another 34 minutes before Mrs Benyon - a jeweller who designed the pounds 15,000 earrings Kate Middlelton wore at her wedding last year - appeared.

PILE: minister's stately We pointed to the hose 20ft away and she switched it off.

After Mr Benyon tried to blame us for the hose, he was blasted by Shadow Environment Minister Gavin Shuker.

The Labour MP said: "This is really embarrassing for Richard Benyon.

"My immediate reaction is that people with country estates should be a little less careless with the way they look after them at a time when the country is facing a serious drought."

The ornamental gardens at the estate - which has been in the Benyon family for 250 years - are normally open to the public between April and October for an admission price of pounds 3. But a sign at the entrance said the grounds were closed on Good Friday and the way in was blocked by cars owned by parishioners going to an Easter service at the nearby church.

A day before finding himself mired in the hosepipe row, the twice-married father of five had publicly insisted the ban - which some experts fear could last for more than 18 months - was vital to stave off a disastrous drought.

He told a BBC interviewer: "We have seen this coming and been planning for it since last May and it's important we use water as wisely as possible. We have had two of the driest winters on record and reservoirs and ground water levels are at very low levels.

"This means we have to use what water there is more wisely.

Difficulty "We have to make sure we're getting households and businesses to look at how they use water - and we'll get through this together."

The minister added: "It's important the Government and the independent regulator continue to put pressure on water companies.

"But ultimately what we are facing is a natural phenomenon which happens every so often. I recognise that this is going to cause great difficulty.

"What we have been planning for is to minimise the impact on businesses and households as much as possible.

"And that's what we are achieving through working with the Environment Agency, with water companies and with other extractors including farmers who do a really important job of feeding this country."

Former soldier Mr Benyon was first elected to Parliament in 2005 and re-elected in 2010 with a hefty majority of 12,248.

He has held the role of water minister since David Cameron's coalition government took office in May 2010 after previously serving as a shadow environment minister.

Before entering politics he served in the Army with the Royal Green Jackets from 1980 to 1985 and now runs a farming business. Last year it was revealed Mr Benyon's family trust had received pounds 2million in EU farm subsidies, placing it in the top 1 per cent of beneficiaries of the scheme.

But the minister insists there is no conflict of interest.

Englefield House is named after the site of a bloody battle between the Saxons and a Viking force in 871.

It is thought to mean "Englishmen's Battle Field" or "Field of angels".

The historic mansion is surrounded by lush parkland and has featured in a string of films, including last year's Oscar-winning The King's Speech starring Colin Firth.

Defra last night issued a statement over our revelation about the hosepipe at Englefield.

An official said: "Mr Benyon has reported to Thames Valley Police an incident of trespass on his property on the afternoon of the 6 April and the police are investigating."

But a spokesman for the force said: "We were notified about an incident but the caller did not require our attendance and there's no further police involvement." pounds 1,000 PENALTY THE hosepipe ban was last week slapped on 20million customers in southern and eastern England. Using a hose to water a garden, water plants, fill a pond not containing fish, or clean outdoor surfaces are all outlawed as are filling and maintaining fountains. People caught flouting the bans face fines of up to pounds 1,000. Bewl Water reservoir in Kent is at its lowest level in 25 years.


ANCESTOR: PM Lord Salisbury PARCHED: Bewl Water, Kent PILE: The minister's stately home OOPS: Mrs Benyon finally turns it off HANDS UP: Minister's wife looks annoyed CAUGHT: Mr Benyon
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2012
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