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SIR PETER VARDY . . .

a multi-millionaire car dealer and creationist evangelist, is offering 12m to help fund a network of state schools.

Vardy, who has a personal fortune of 75m, has already put 2m into Emmanuel College, the city technology college in Gateshead at the centre of a row over giving scientific credence to the biblical view of how the world was created.

A further 2m of the 12m he has set aside has been earmarked to establish a city academy in Middlesbrough, to open in 2003. He has also held talks with Leeds and Newcastle councils to set up further academies.

Vardy, who regularly leads the worship at the Bethany Christian Centre, an evangelical church near his home in Tyne and Wear, is keen to help the government in creating city academies new schools in deprived areas that will have business sponsors. . .

This weekend Vardy, who is the chairman of governors at Emmanuel, accused his critics of attempting to use the row over the college to attack faith schools. He denied his own creationist views were reflected in what was taught at the school.

"I don't know what a creationist is. I am not a scientist. I am a car salesman," he said. "My opinion is God created man in his own image and I believe that God created the Earth, but I am not teaching that at the school that is my particular faith."

He acknowledged he did not believe in evolution, adding: "I don't believe my ancestors were monkeys. Where do monkeys come from? If we come from monkeys where did they start?" Vardy, who expanded his father's car business into marques such as Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce, as well as selling Fords, Vauxhalls, Nissans and Rovers, said there were no strings attached to the tranches of 2m he is ready to put into state schools. "It comes down to my Christian faith. God has blessed me with a very full cup. There is a responsibility to use that wealth and money wisely."

He said his Vardy Foundation charity has been talking to local authorities in the northeast about setting up city academies. The building of the school in Middlesbrough is due to start in May and will amalgamate two existing schools.

Vardy was 669th in The Sunday Times Rich List 2001. His forthcoming entry will put him higher up the list with a personal fortune of 75m. He took over running the Reg Vardy company when his father died in 1976.

He said then: "I got one O-level at school, and there are times when you scratch your head and wonder how this has happened."

His company has doubled in size every three to four years, now turning over more than 1.3 billion with 30m profits.

[The Times, 17/3/02]

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