Council risks legal action over decision to sell Riesco china

Croydon Tories deliberately ignored the council’s legal advisers to push through the pawn shop sale of the borough’s Riesco Collection.

Croydon Council: Flogging off public assets to pay mounting debts

A confidential document, obtained by Inside Croydon, shows that Steve O’Connell, the cabinet member for finance, and Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservatives who control the Town Hall, were fully aware that the auction of the 24 most valuable pieces of Chinese porcelain from the borough’s art collection was in breach of council policy, and that this would leave Croydon open to legal challenge.

O’Connell, dubbed Britain’s most overpaid local councillor as he pockets generous public allowances from both Croydon and the London Assembly, told the Town Hall meeting in July that, “I have agreed to ask officers to go ahead because I think this is the right thing to do.”

O’Connell’s unqualified and inexpert personal opinion – he is a former mortgage salesman – runs counter to the legal advice expensively acquired by Croydon Council and which was included in the confidential “Part B report” provided under his name to that meeting.

The Part B report is not provided to the public, and that section of the meeting when it is discussed is done behind closed doors, too. Once you’ve read the report, you quickly see why Croydon’s secretive council did not want you to see it.

The report was drafted ahead of the Corporate Services Committee meeting in July, when the context for the recommendations were to “address the Council’s priorities for competing as a place and as a ‘Creative City’.” Yeah, seriously.

The report includes advice from a leading legal counsel that the sale is against the council’s policy, and that the scheme to use the proceeds of the Riesco sale to refurbish the Fairfield Halls “would be in clear contravention of the policy”.

Having already been described as “unethical” over the proposed Riesco sale by the Museums Association, it now seems that O’Connell, Pollard & Co have decided to take the council down a course of action that they have been advised could see them in court before a judge.

Paragraph 3.1.4 of Croydon Council’s own report states: “Disposal by sale of the 24 items from the collection as detailed in the Part A report and the currently proposed use of the proceeds of the sale would be contrary to the councils [sic] Policy. The Councils’ [sic] action in contravening the Policy could be challenged by way of judicial review.”

Here's the damning report on the Riesco Collection sale which Croydon Council wanted to keep secret

Here’s the damning report on the Riesco Collection sale which Croydon Council wanted to keep secret

The report continues: “Leading Counsel has advised that with reference to the policy as detailed in the Part A report the decision to sell items from the Riesco Collection may well contravene the Policy; and the decision to use the proceeds of sale for purposes other than ‘for the benefit of the collections’ would be in clear contravention of the Policy.

“It would be open to interested persons (eg a local action group) to challenge the sale/use of proceeds on the basis that the Council is in breach of a substantive legitimate expectation that it will comply with its Policy. The Council would only be able to defeat that expectation if it had good reason for doing so.”

The report then goes on, at considerable length, to cite recent legal precedent in this area. It was clearly all too much for the Brains’ Trust of Croydon Tories who sit on the Corporate Services Committee: Jan Buttinger (Kenley ward), Donald Speakman (Purley), Jeet Bains (Coulsdon West), Sara Bashford (Selsdon), Terry Lenton (Coulsdon East) and Vidhi Mohan (Fairfield). They all sheepishly did what they had been told, ignored the council’s legal advisers, and voted to go ahead with the unethical and probably unlawful sale.

The auction is due to take place in Hong Kong next month.

Pollard, whose lies and deceits over the Riesco Collection are also laid bare from a reading of the report to the meeting, never bothered to show up for the committee session. Maybe the £45,000 he receives in allowances from the council could be donated towards any legal costs that Croydon Council Tax-payers incur as a consequence of his poor judgement?

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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5 Responses to Council risks legal action over decision to sell Riesco china

  1. This could put officers in a difficult position. If they believe that they have been instructed to carry out an illegal action by Councillors then they should have refused. Councillors have no right to ask officers to break the Law even if it may in their opinion be the right thing to do. The Law takes precedent over right and wrong in this country not least because right and wrong are often matters of opinion rather than fact. If one ignores the Law then it is a short distance to anarchy.

  2. Huge kudos to the person who passed “Part B” to Inside Croydon. It didn’t make sense that there was a document relating to the discussion that the public wasn’t allowed to see. I mean, we’re not talking about national security here.

    The public was given the notion that all the Council lawyers gave it clearance. Like there was absolutely no legal basis to question the sale. And then we get this.

  3. Pingback: Croydon Borough Council’s Riesco Collection: selling cultural heritage to offset austerity | (un)free archaeology

  4. mraemiller says:

    Question: Does the Council Report on the Legal situation surrounding the sale actually conclude that the Council “owns the items” it sold “outright”?

    When I read the original agreement it seemed opaque as to me the situation with regards to what happens if the agreement is broken. Does the collection default to the Riesco family legally? Mario Creatura when I posted the relevant section on twitter said “that has been superseded by later agreements”. So I asked the council if there were any other agreements. They said No. I asked if they had a copy of Mr Riesco’s will so they could figure out if there was a legal challenge from his descendants who might put in a legal claim. They said No. So I asked the Council if I could see the Legal advice. Despite the fact it has already leaked they claimed a section 42 exception. Why? It’s not Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice to Tony Blair on the legality of the Iraq War, is it? So I asked them if they’d obtained any legal permission official or unofficial in writing from Mr Riesco’s family.

    Me: “So are you saying that apart from the documents attached the Council has no other
    Legal agreements with other members of the Riesco family either in writing or verbally?”

    Nigel Spalding Libraries and Culture Project Officer Children, Families and Learning :
    “Yes, that is correct.”

  5. Just goes to show how much wannabe politician Mario Creatura knows.

    Or maybe he was just lying?

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