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Lord Hesketh quits Babcock over aircraft carrier comments

Lord Hesketh has resigned from his post as deputy chairman at London-based engineering group Babcock International after branding the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier programme a "disaster".

Babcock, which is building the carriers at its shipyard in Rosyth, revealed he was stepping down with immediate effect following the comments in The Daily Telegraph.

Lord Hesketh was reported in the newspaper saying the £5.2 billion carrier project would make Britain a "laughing stock" following defence cuts.

Last month's defence review revealed only one carrier would operate for three years and never carry planes, while the second would not carry aircraft until at least 2020.

Babcock issued a statement on Monday distancing itself from Lord Hesketh's comments. It said: "Babcock dissociates itself from these personal comments, which do not in any respect reflect the views of the company. Babcock with its partners in the Carrier Alliance is focused on delivering this major upgrade to the UK's defence capability on time and to budget."

Lord Hesketh criticised prime contractor BAE Systems for having a "vested interest" that had caused extra expense. "We are paying twice as much as we should to get half the capability," he said.

The carriers will have to be fitted with catapults at extra cost to launch F35 fighter jets, which are being built by BAE and Lockheed Martin, but will not be ready until 2020 while plans for a jump jet version have been scrapped.

Lord Hesketh is reported as saying a quicker and cheaper solution would have been to adapt the RAF's current fleet of Typhoon aircraft for work at sea, but he claimed this was less lucrative for BAE. Lord Hesketh has acted as deputy chairman at Babcock since 1996, before which he was a non-executive director for three years.

Mike Turner, chairman of Babcock, said: "Lord Hesketh has been a long-standing and valued member of the Babcock board and over this period has made a significant contribution to the development of the group. We thank him for his contribution and wish him well."

BAE Systems declined to comment.

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