Croydon Tories deliberately ignored the council’s legal advisers to push through the pawn shop sale of the borough’s Riesco Collection.
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.”
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?
- The Riesco resignation: Doesn’t Pollard read his mail?
- Pollard ducks decisive meeting on £13m Riesco sale
- Riesco objections: Croydon Council’s squandering our heritage
- Is Croydon on the brink with £1 billion borough debt?
Coming to Croydon
- Crystal Palace Concerts – “I have a dream”: Oct 17
- The Firebird, family concert: Oct 20
- Lakes Playground group’s fundraising Zumba-ween: Oct 26
- PJ’s enterprising look at Black History Month: Oct 29
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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