Ex-drug dealer and jailed share cheat honoured

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CALLS for stricter controls on honours were made today after a property tycoon who was imprisoned for a share-trading scandal and a former drug-dealing gang member were both handed awards.

Sports stars and figures from the world of the arts head the New Year Honours List alongside a host of unsung heroes who play vital roles in their communities.

But there was controversy over the award of a CBE to Gerald Ronson, convicted in 1990 for his involvement in the Guinness share-trading scandal, who served six months of a one-year sentence.

An OBE is also awarded to Chris Preddie, who is the cousin of two brothers who killed schoolboy Damilola Taylor in south London in 2000. He was involved in gangs himself but turned his life around after his brother was shot dead in Brixton to devote his time to youth work and reducing crime, spearheading campaigns against gun and knife crime.

Mr Preddie, 24, said his cousins’ actions often caused him to be “knocked back” in life.

“For me, what counts is just trying to be positive. I hope (the OBE) shows the young people out there it doesn’t matter who you are or who your family are.

“(My brother Andrew) got shot four days after my 16th birthday. I realised it could be my life.”

But Richard Taylor, Damilola’s father, said he was “totally against” Mr Preddie being honoured.

“I think there should be stricter rules for giving people such an honour,” he said.

“To be honoured with such a prestigious award when there are hard-working people who have lost their loved ones doing similar work in the community isn’t right. I think they deserve it more.”

Mr Ronson, 72, is now known as much for his property giant Heron International, charity work and for being the uncle of chart-topping musician Mark Ronson.

He founded the Heron Group at the age of 17 in 1956. The company, which he still leads, built up a portfolio across Europe of 160 buildings in nine countries and he is also credited with introducing self-service petrol stations to the UK.

But his years of success were derailed when in 1990 he was jailed and fined £5m for false accounting, theft and conspiracy to contravene the 1958 Prevention of Fraud Act for his part in a scam to boost the Guinness share price.

He launched a campaign to clear his name, eventually winning a European Court of Human Rights ruling that his trial had been unfair, although he failed to get the House of Lords to overturn his conviction.

His current personal wealth is put at more than £250m.

The tycoon has raised more than £100m for charities, including £30m in personal donations to organisations such as the Community Security Trust, the NSPCC and the Prince’s Trust.

Asked if his 1990 conviction had any influence over the decision to award him a CBE, a Cabinet Office spokesman said every nomination was considered on its own merits.

He said: “The honours system is open to everybody. They will have had in mind the Statute of Limitations in terms of the assessment. It would have been given individually on its merits. If someone has served their time and gone on to do wonderful works I don’t think that prevents someone from receiving an honour.”

Among lesser-known names awarded honours is Jeannette Orrey, who inspired Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthier school meals through her own work at St Peter’s Primary School in East Bridgford near Nottingham, and is awarded a MBE.

In five years she transformed the school menu so pupils were tucking into healthy organic food rather than turkey twizzlers.

“Seventy children were having school meals when I started at the school. When I left six years ago, some 195 were having them,” she said.

MBEs also go to stonemason Alan Horsfield, who is honoured for services to St Paul’s Cathedral; Welsh caretaker Robert Owen, who is recognised for services to the community in Holyhead, Anglesey; Mary Watt, who is rewarded for services to highland dance teaching in Ross-shire, Scotland; and Lyndie Wright, of the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, north London, who receives her accolade for services to the craft of puppetry.

And though his name may be linked to the top-secret world of espionage, James Bond’s MBE recognises his work as a foster carer at Essex County Council.