Former MEP killed in plane crash

ONE of the region's most colourful politicians and socialites has been killed in a plane crash in South Africa.

ONE of the region's most colourful politicians and socialites has been killed in a plane crash in South Africa.

Long-serving former Euro MP, farmer and adventurer Paul Howell was among at least five other people who were on a Piper Seneca aircraft, which crashed on a beach just short of Beira, the second largest city in Mozambique.

Mr Howell, 57, the son of the former North Norfolk MP and farmer Sir Ralph Howell who died in February this year, was on a trip to South Africa with his wife Ayesha, who he had married last year. She was not on the plane at the time.

He had been looking at agricultural business interests in South Africa and Mozambique.

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Tributes were last night paid by family, close friends and political figures to the man who was credited with “championing Norfolk in Europe.”

News reports from South Africa say that about six people were on board the privately registered plane, including five South Africans.

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It is understood there were no survivors. A commission of inquiry had been set up to determine the cause of the crash.

Antonio Tito, director of Beira International Airport, has been quoted as saying the pilot had lost contact with the airport tower. It has also been reported that the plane had run out of fuel short of the runway late on Saturday.

Mr Howell's home was at Wendling, near Dereham, where he and his wife lived with their baby son.

The former Tory politician had lost his seat to a Labour MEP in 1994 after serving for 15 years and becoming one of the best known elected figures in Strasburg.

He was in Gaza when the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, in Berlin the day the Wall came down and at the Kremlin the night the Soviet Union effectively collapsed. Mr Howell brawled with Labour Euro MPs, championed the Yarmouth Outer Harbour, befriended Canadian seals, attacked Euro-junketing and helped Mrs Thatcher to her political knees.

In 1981 he crashed his aircraft at Swanton Morley, near Dereham, severing vocal chords and leaving him with a husky voice.

In 1999 he made a political comeback when he attempted to regain his seat in the European Parliament.

He was finally expelled as a Tory and moved to the Liberal Democrats in 2001.

Mr Howell's family were still coming to terms with his death last night.

A statement released yesterday said: “Former Tory MEP for Norfolk Paul Howell was killed in a light aircraft in Mozambique on Saturday 20 September.

“He is survived by his wife Ayesha and three sons, William, Oliver and Zack.”

Friend and joint best man at his wedding to Ayesha last year Paul Whittome, owner of the Hoste Arms at Burnham Market, said: “He was a completely larger than life character and controversial. You couldn't have a more loyal friend, fun friend.

“He was adviser to Edward Heath, had contact with Thatcher, he was an expert on the history of the Middle East and was probably the most brilliant orator I have ever seen.

“He was kind. Holidays with Paul were always great fun. We got arrested scuba diving by a naval frigate once. Everything that went with Paul was an adventure.”

Martin Buckingham, who was his other best man, said: “He was a very special person and a very dear friend. He had an astonishing sense of adventure and fun.

“He was astonishingly intelligent, his knowledge and intellect were extraordinary.

“He was just an inspiration and totally devoted to his three children.”

Chris Gurney, who was left paralysed from the waist down after the 1981 Swanton Morley air crash, said they had remained friends.

“He was always the life and soul of the party,” said Mr Gurney who operates Northrepps airfield. “But he did not always see eye to eye with his Tory bosses and was known to resolve a dispute with his fists.

“When he got given a task, he was like a Jack Russell, he would not let go until the job was done.”

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “It is a grave loss for Norfolk. Paul was quite an outstanding MEP and Norfolk's champion in Europe.

“He was Mr Norfolk in Brussels and Mr Brussels in Norfolk.”

Conal O'Donnell, who had been a friend since childhood, said: “It is really sad news. He was a boisterous, vivid friend. He was a driven man and was trying to make his fortune in Africa.”

Paul was the oldest of three children. He has a sister Deborah, in New Zealand, and brother Robert, who lives near Dereham.

Last night the Foreign Office confirmed a British National had been on the plane and that it had contacted and offered consular help to next of kin.

Last night the pilot was named locally as South African Johan Wessels, an experienced commercial pilot and builder. Also on board was his wife Louisa, with WIlson Zao and Michael Paulo. The final passenger has not yet been identified.

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