A spokesman for developers trying to redevelop historic Cherkley Court has been forced to apologise and pay damages to three countryside campaigners after posting defamatory tweets.

Nick Kilby posted the messages last year alleging they had made deliberately false and malicious complaints about a councillor.

At the time an investigation had just cleared Mole Valley Councillor Rosemary Dickson of any wrongdoing over her role in granting planning permission to turn Cherkley Court into a hotel and golf course near Leatherhead.

More than a year later, developer Longshot Cherkley Court's spokesman Mr Kilby has finally apologised to three of the six people he named in one of the tweets.

He has sent apologies to Kristina Kenworthy and Martin Newey, directors of the Cherkley Campaign which has taken successful legal action to block the plans, plus Cherkley Campaign member John Whittaker.

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Cherkley Court, former home of press baron Lord Beaverbrook

The three had all taken legal action against him, while the other three Flip Cargill, David Suttle and John Empson did not and are believed to still be awaiting an apology from Mr Kilby.

In his apology to Mrs Kenworthy, dated October 24, Mr Kilby said: "As you know on 2nd October 2012 I put messages on my Twitter feed alleging that you had made deliberately false complaints against Councillor Rosemary Dixon[sic] which were motivated by spite and malice.

"I wish to withdraw the allegation, which I accept that I should never have made, because it is false and defamatory, and I apologise to you for the publication.

"I acknowledge that I have paid you a sum in respect of damages and also your legal costs."

Mrs Kenworthy said: "There appears to be a worrying trend that developers employ PR consultants who attack and discredit local residents objecting to their planning applications or seeking to hold their council to account.

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Work carried out in the proposed golf course site

"It was unfortunate that we had to take legal action in order to get an apology, but good to have got one a long last."

Mr Newey said: "I’m pleased that the truth is finally out.

"It has been a real battle to get these people to own up to the way in which they have slandered our names and reputations."

Mr Whittaker said: "It is a pity that Mr Kilby saw fit to make his false allegation."

Ms Cargill, a Cherkley Campaign member also named in the defamatory tweet, said she and other two complainants may now get legal advice to force Mr Kilby to apologise.

She said: "It’s something we would consider. I think all the complainants are owed apologies and only some have received apologies. We are just decent human beings who care about the environment and what happens up there."

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Diggers at work on the estate earlier this year

Mr Kilby, director of Cratus Communications and a former Kingston councillor, declined to make any comment.

In 2012 an investigation by solicitor Richard Lingard found that Coun Dickson did not breach the councillors' code of conduct and was not pre-determined in deciding on the planning application.

Mrs Dickson’s husband is second cousin to Joel Cadbury, who is great-grandson of the chocolate company founder and a director of Longshot Cherkley Court.

In July Mrs Dickson apologised to Mrs Kenworthy over a press statement issued in October 2012 after the conclusion of the investigation into her conduct.

In the letter she said: "I now accept that, in fact, the final report made no finding of malice, and that there was no basis for me to have suggested that you made your complaints maliciously.

"In particular, I acknowledge that Mr Lingard had concluded that he did not question the integrity of any of the complainants, including yourself, nor did he believe that any of the complainants had told him any untruths."

This week Coun Dickson declined to comment on the matter, adding: "I have nothing to say on this whatsoever. It’s all done, all dusted and all over."

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Countryside campaigers at the estate 

Mole Valley Conservative Party also issued a public apology to the complainants for a press statement falsely alleging that they had been motivated by malice.

In March Mr Kilby branded legal steps taken by the Cherkley Campaign to obtain an injunction to prevent work to create a golf course as 'misconceived' and taken on a 'completely erroneous' basis.

He said: "Immediate steps are being taken by our legal team to rectify the position and damages will be sought against the Cherkley Campaign and its individual members for any temporary delay in the scheme proceeding in accordance with the planning permission which has been lawfully granted by the council."

In response, Richard Buxton, solicitor for the Cherkley Campaign, rejected the claims and said the injunction was granted without liability in damages. He said: "The threat of suing Cherkley Campaign is pure puff.

"What Longshot say is misleading if not downright defamatory."

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Campaigners at the High Court

The Court of Appeal has now granted the council and developer leave to appeal after High Court judge Mr Justice Haddon-Cave heard a judicial review about the development and quashed planning permission for Cherkley Court in August.

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave concluded that the council’s decision to grant planning permission was irrational, legally flawed, contrary to planning policy and based on inadequate reasons.

The Cherkley Campaign had brought the judicial review to block plans that they believe would wreck the precious and highly protected landscape in the greenbelt.