Hartland farmer at centre of the storm welcomes a review on farm vehicle rules

JOHN Thorne, the Hartland farmer at the centre of the red diesel row, has welcomed the news that a review is to be carried out of the rules relating to the use of the fuel in farm vehicles for charitable and community purposes.

In June Mr Thorne was fined £250 after Customs and Excise officers caught him using red diesel in his tractor while voluntarily mowing the grass on Hartland Playing Fields.

It led to outcry and fears that others helping their communities by towing carnival floats, erecting Christmas lights and with other voluntary work might fear doing so in the future, with an adverse effect on many rural villages.

Mr Thorne became a local celebrity, even leading Hartland carnival on his tractor in a satirical entry that helped the village press home its message.

Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox, who took up Mr Thorne’s case, has now secured a review of the rules.

Following Mr Cox’s meetings with treasury ministers and continued pressure, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening MP, has ordered a review of the enforcement policies of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for red diesel.

Mr Cox said: “I am pleased at the decision of the treasury to review the enforcement polices of HMRC that led to the action against John Thorne. I very much hope that common sense will prevail.

“It is vital for community and charitable events throughout the country that what happened to John should not happen to anyone else.

“I am assured the review will look at whether a relaxation of the rules could be introduced. I can assure John and everyone else who offers support to our communities that I shall continue to press for a realistic recognition of the value and importance of the services they perform.”

Mr Thorne told the Gazette: “It is really good news. I hope this will mean that villagers throughout the country who do this sort of charity work will not in future be pounced on by the Revenue and Customs.

“We don’t want people abusing the system. But it has to be made clear what people can and cannot do. At the time, I never thought I was doing anything wrong.

“I will be delighted if we have a review and then everyone knows where they stand. Maybe with their ‘big society’ calling on people to help others, the Government will have to consider doing something.”