Goring great-grandfather called ‘local idiot’ by Littlehampton harbour master in email

Bill Chapman with the letter
Bill Chapman with the letter

A yacht owner has called for the Littlehampton harbour master to stand down after being referred to as a ‘local idiot’ in an email.

But a spokesman for the harbour board said it was an ‘error in transcribing handwritten notes’.

Bill Chapman, 84, from Goring Way, Goring, with a print out of the email chain in which he is described as a 'local idiot'

Bill Chapman, 84, from Goring Way, Goring, with a print out of the email chain in which he is described as a 'local idiot'

In an email exchange dated July 8, 2015, harbour master Billy Johnson wrote to Philip Bush, chairman of the Littlehampton Harbour Board, listing attendees of a meeting the previous evening. In that email, Mr Johnson said: “I must admit, I found it rather depressing - to have now given the stakeholders an opportunity to contribute and be left re-hashing the same old rubbish.”

Next to Bill Chapman’s name, it said ‘local idiot’.

In response, Mr Bush said: “Thank you – until now, I was unsure who Bill Chapman was and what he represented unless of course that is the name of his yacht.”

The harbour master then replied: “Most sincere apologies. That was a typo.”

The email came to light in 2016, when Robert Boyce, owner of the Littlehampton Shipyard and Ferry, asked for every piece of information the harbour board had with his name on under the Data Protection Act.

Mr Chapman, 84, from Goring Way, Goring, said: “I was disgusted when I read it. It made me very angry. I didn’t communicate it to my partner or boys at first, because they wouldn’t have been very happy about it.”

It was only after the harbour board voted to ban members of the public and press from its meetings on December 2 that Bill decided to confront Mr Johnson.

At the same meeting, the great-grandfather said he handed out printouts of the emails to board members, and asked Mr Johnson and Mr Bush ‘what they were going to do about this’.

He said the other board members looked ‘horrified’, but that the pair ‘just looked at me and said “get out of here”’.

He claimed he had not heard from them since, but wanted a full public apology and called for Mr Johnson to stand down.

It is the second call for Mr Johnson, who took up his post in 2012, to step down, after Mr Boyce and his wife Fiona called for him and Mr Bush to stand aside in 2018.

Bill said: “I don’t think he is fit to hold his job. I would have thought that a man with a bit of common sense would know that a ‘local idiot’ wouldn’t be able to navigate a boat as big as the one I have.”

Bill said he did not file an official complaint with the harbour board because he was skeptical it would be resolved.

The experienced skipper took part in his first Fastnet Race - one of the world’s most famous offshore boat races - in 1975, and got a gold medal in 1977, he said. In 1982, he did his first transatlantic race with the prestigious Royal Ocean Racing Club.

A successful businessman, Bill owned a building and civil engineering company for two decades and spent eight years in the Caribbean sailing his boat. After his previous yacht was destroyed in a ground surge in Venezuela in 1989, Bill bought Leona - a 42ft, 18-tonne two-masted sailboat - from Hillyard boat makers in Littlehampton Harbour and it has been based there since. He said: “I have done a lot of things in my life, so I’m certainly not the ‘local idiot’.”

In a statement on behalf of Mr Johnson and Mr Bush, a harbour board spokesman said: “The harbour master apologised at the time for the error in transcribing handwritten attendance notes from a stakeholder meeting held in 2015.

“No formal complaint has been received, and while the individual has indicated that he is considering legal action, it would not be appropriate to comment further.

“It is worth noting however that there is no evidence to suggest that this wasn’t a faithful reproduction of the handwritten attendance sheet circulated at the meeting in question.”