Lord Sempill told to hop it after plea for more taxpayer cash

HE was the controversial figurehead of the centrepiece event of Scotland's Year of Homecoming which racked up a £600,000 loss and left behind an angry trail of 50 creditors.

• Lord Sempill, who left taxpayers and creditors 800,000 out of pocket after last year's Gathering, wanted more public funds for his latest venture. Picture: Toby Williams

Tory peer Lord Sempill persuaded public funders to cough up more than 500,000 to support his failed clan gathering in Edinburgh last summer - and left the taxpayer out of pocket to the tune of another 300,000.

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But now he is hatching plans to jet off to the United States and Canada to promote his new tourism venture - with the help of public money.

He is seeking help to raise 12,000 to promote his new online ancestral portal, Panalba, which he helped set up with a "loan" from the taxpayer funded company he created to run The Gathering.

The Scotsman revealed earlier this month how Lord Sempill had relaunched the Panalba website, which was originally set up as a social networking site for people attending The Gathering, a web magazine, travel guide and online shop.

Creditors left out of pocket to the tune of around 420,000 were furious after learning he was using a database of around 8000 people who had attended The Gathering.

Secret e-mails leaked to The Scotsman reveal Lord Sempill is trying to raise money from a host of public-sector organisations to visit up to 20 Highland Games events in the US and Canada to promote Panalba over the summer.

Despite the Scottish Government having to write off a 180,000 loan it gave to Lord Sempill's firm to ensure last July's clan gathering went ahead, he has told potential supporters he hopes to win official backing for his tour.

The e-mails reveal Lord Sempill's anger at how he has been treated in Scotland, saying he his not appreciated and has suffered at the hands of a hostile media.

He has appealed to supporters of The Gathering around the world to throw their weight behind Panalba, which he said was aimed at anyone with an affinity with Scotland.

However, the Scottish Government confirmed last night that it had already turned down Lord Sempill's plea for fresh financial help.

One of his e-mails states: "The Panalba roadshow . . .

Curriculum Vitae

Name: James William Stuart Whitemore Sempill, the 21st Baron Sempill

Age: 60

Background: Lord Sempill, or Jamie as he prefers to be known, comes from one of Scotland's oldest families. One of his ancestors, the first Lord Sempill, was killed at Flodden, and another fought at Culloden.

He inherited one of Scotland's oldest titles and took his seat in the House of Lords in 1995.

He had returned to his native Scotland three years earlier after having spent much of his early life in marketing, mainly promoting beer and tobacco brands in South Africa and Russia.

He stood for the Tories in Edinburgh North and Leith in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections and was due to be the candidate in Paisley South in 2003, but stood down to take a job in the US.

He first unveiled plans to stage The Gathering in 2007, which was envisaged in the early days of the plans to stage a Year of Homecoming in 2009. is intended to structure a formal relationship with tourism and heritage organisations, plus a commercial arrangement with a select group of Scottish businesses."

In another e-mail from Lord Sempill to a supporter of The Gathering, he said: "I have taken quite a battering at the hands of the local media, so I thought it a good idea to get out of here and into an environment in which I am appreciated."

After The Gathering's financial troubles emerged in October of last year, it was revealed that a 32,000 loan was provided the company Lord Sempill set up to run The Gathering to get Panalba off the ground.

Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "I sincerely hope no public agency in Scotland has any intention of funding him on this venture or any future Gathering events."

Martin Hunt, whose PR firm is one of the many creditors of The Gathering, said: "Jamie has got a cheek trying to raise public money for this new venture. There are quite a lot of people out there who wouldn't trust him as far as they could throw him."

Lord Sempill could not be contacted last night, but told The Scotsman last week that Panalba was always intended to be a long-term venture.

He said: "The idea is that it will very much build on the legacy of The Gathering."

A government spokeswoman said: "Panalba Ltd is a private company. The government has provided no funding to Panalba, and has had no involvement in its work."