A former leading British diplomat, who attended The Bilderberg Group meeting in Watford, has spoken out to dispel the conspiracy theories surrounding its discussions.

In an interview with the Watford Observer, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, 58, said the group was no different to many other international forums held around the world and voiced surprise at the large protest it drew.

Sir Sherard, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, left public service to take up a job at BAE Systems in 2011 and was invited to Bilderberg for the first time this year.

The group, which met at The Grove hotel last week, has remained secretive for most of its 59-year history and describes itself as an off-the-record forum for leading global figures to debate the pressing issues of the day.

Watford Observer:

Protestors at The Grove on Thursday.

Bilderberg delegates rarely speak publically about their experiences during the meetings but in an in-depth interview, Sir Sherard debunked the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the group - including that Bilderberg is a “shadow world government” seeking to supersede democracy.

He said: “I can honestly say, having been at the meeting, all the conspiracy theories are wrong.

“It was just a private discussion of the kind that takes place at conference centres all around the world, all the time.

“I don’t know [why people protest the meetings], I suppose one thing that distinguishes Bilderberg is it’s pretty high level. But I am slightly at a loss to understand exactly why it should be controversial.

“The protest wasn’t discussed during the meeting but everyone was aware of it and some parties actually went down to see the demonstrators and find out what was going on.”

The diplomat’s statements run contrary to many of the allegations made by American “shock jock” Alex Jones who gave an hour long speech to more than 1,000 people protesting in the grounds of The Grove this Saturday.

Among his numerous accusations were that the group is creating new forms of cancer in an effort to reduce the global population by 80 per cent, it invented the internet as a “panopticon spy system” and is plotting to “shut down society”.

Jones, who appeared on the BBC’s flagship Sunday Politics show yesterday and was branded “an idiot” by host Andrew Neil after repeatedly interrupting other guests while shouting his own website address.

Watford Observer:

Alex Jones addressing 2,000-strong crowd of protesters on Saturday.

Another speaker who addressed the Bilderberg protest on Saturday was former BBC TV presenter turned conspiracy theorist, David Icke, who alleged the group was working on a plot to microchip the human population.

This year’s Bilderberg Group meeting was attended by around 140 people - one third of which come from government and politics with the rest from academia, finance and industry.

Among this year's attendees were British Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Watford Observer:

Prime Minister David Cameron made an unscheduled appearance at Bilderberg on Friday.

Other delegates included Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission; Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF and Francois Fillon, the former French Prime Minister.

The arrival of the delegates in south west Hertfordshire prompted a huge security operation involving hundreds of police from Hertfordshire, Essex, City of London and the Thames Valley.

Sir Sherard also defended the private nature of the meeting, saying it was essential to maintain the ‘Chatham House Rule’ to allow open and frank discussion.

He said: “I found the experience very interesting and very valuable. We covered a wide range of topics – everything from Syria to the economic situation to British membership of the EU and even big data, which is very topical.

“It is the rule of the group that all these senior people are able to exchange views in private, it is no different from many other conferences where proceedings are conducted under what is called the Chatham House Rule.

“This means you can reveal, in broad terms, what was said but not by whom.

“It was two and a half very full days of discussion. We covered jobs and the global economic situation, growth, European politics, Africa, the Middle East, big data, medical research, nationalism, populism, online education, cyber warfare, America and the World, Syria.”

Like all delegates, Sir Sherard was named on the published list along with his present job title of business development director, international at BAE Systems. This was the first year the group published the list before the conference.

Watford Observer:

A protester wearing a tinfoil hat at Saturday's demonstration.

Yet, he stressed he and every other visitor was there in a personal capacity and not representing their employer or any other organisation.

Instead, he said members are selected due to credentials in a particular field – in his case it was the experience accrued in more than 30 years at the Foreign and Commonwealth office.

“Everyone is invited in their personal capacity,” he said.

“I am sure that was the case [that he was invited due to his diplomatic experience] I certainly wasn’t there representing BAE.”

The Bilderberg Group gets its name from the hotel where the first meeting was held in 1954. At the time its stated aim was to promote “Atlanticism” in the era of the rapidly-growing Soviet Union.

Almost 60 years on and faced with very different world challenges the group has not yet opened itself up to either representatives from Russia or the former Soviet republics or the rest of the world.

This rule meant at this year’s meeting a discussion on the present situation in Syria was conducted without any representatives from the war-torn country.

Watford Observer:

Protesters haranguing Bilderberg delegates as they arrived at The Grove on Thursday.

Asked whether the group can still be relevant without embracing the emerging economies of China and India, Sir Sherard replied: “The world faces huge challenges of unemployment, low growth, of the Euro, worries about education, worries about the conflict in the Middle East, worries about development in Africa, worries about cyber security. The list goes on and on.

“This was, as far as I can see, a serious attempt to get to grips with these issues in a serious way and in order for all these senior people to have a serious discussion it can’t be in public any more than the meetings that take place elsewhere.

“Bilderberg doesn’t pretend to be the only dialogue or to have a monopoly but these are still two pretty important areas of the world and people should be talking to each other about current issues and this continues to make sense.”