Group criticised after web comments

A SHADOWY campaign group has been accused of acting “in the worst possible taste” after publishing “uninformed and shocking” remarks on the internet against a leading councillor just days after his death.

A SHADOWY campaign group has been accused of acting “in the worst possible taste” after publishing “uninformed and shocking” remarks on the internet against a leading councillor just days after his death.

The comments about the late Andrew Varley, a driving force behind the £100m Cattle Market project in Bury St Edmunds, have appeared on a website run by the self-appointed “Knights of St Edmund” over the last few days.

The criticisms come from the same group which has threatened the scheme's developers Centros Miller and flagship store Debenhams with a 1,000-year-old curse, which they say will bring “death, destruction and venereal diseases” if plans for the controversial town centre revamp are not dropped.

However, officials last night said this latest “gimmick” had taken what started as a “schoolboy prank” too far - acting against the Christian values upon which the Knights say their views are based.

John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, on which Mr Varley fulfilled the role of deputy leader before losing a long battle against cancer, last night said those responsible should be “treated with the contempt they deserve”.

“Andrew did not die suddenly (as the website claims), but following an enormously brave two-year battle with a dreadful cancer during which time he ceaselessly and selflessly worked for the people of St Edmundsbury, which he cared passionately about,” he said.

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“Whether these internet jokers, whoever they are, agreed with him or not, their website attack is not only uninformed but shocking and in the worst possible taste.

“Any real Knights of St Edmund would surely display chivalry, honour, decency, truth and, if possible, humour - as Andrew did through his life. Sadly, none of these attributes are in evidence and the individuals responsible for this gimmick should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

“The only redeeming feature - and I know that Rosie, his widow, feels the same as myself about this - is that Andrew Varley himself would have found the whole thing both ridiculous and hilarious.”

Mr Varley, who leaves his wife and two children, was chairman of the council's Cattle Market Redevelopment Working Party prior to his death on November 6, aged 56.

He had earlier clashed with the so-called Knights while responding to their threat to deliver the curse on St Edmunds Day, which falls this Sunday.

As a result, the group's website has, since Mr Varley's death, said he “refused to listen to reason, evidence or argument” and described him as a “principle cheer-leader” for the redevelopment project and a “leading promoter and apologist” for Centros Miller.

“The Knights of St Edmund will pray for the repose of his soul; may the Lord God have mercy. Amen,” reads the article.

Steve Bryson, spokesman for Centros Miller, last night echoed Mr Griffiths' views, saying: “This started as a schoolboy prank, because it was so ridiculous. But by now vilifying Councillor Varley in such a way, it has gone beyond the bounds of all taste and reason.

“Everybody who knew him knew he was a very good man who was keen to ensure Bury got what it needed in terms of the development on this site.

“We are pressing ahead with the scheme and completely ignoring the threat of the curse. The spirit of it is just not Christian - wishing ill on fellow human beings.”

A town resident who has in the past acted as spokesman for the group was yesterday unavailable for comment.

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