The battle to stop what is widely believed to be the unlawful sale of some of the most valuable pieces from the Riesco Collection by Croydon Council is over.
In a statement issued by local campaigners, Charlotte Davies, chair of the South Croydon Community Association, said that “with great regret” they were abandoning their court action because they had been unable to meet the high and rapidly rising legal costs. There was to have been an initial court hearing this week.
Now it seems certain that the 24 items from the Riesco Collection, which had been given to Croydon nearly 50 years ago, will be auctioned off by Christie’s in Hong Kong on November 27, where the council hopes to raise around £13 million.
“Croydon Council and senior elected councillors used Croydon Council Tax-payers’ money to stop us having our day in court,” Davies said.
It is understood that uncertainty over future fund-raising made it impossible for the campaign to continue the case against the council’s resources.
“In the three short weeks since we obtained the evidence to show that Croydon Council was behaving unlawfully and unethically, we managed to raise something like £15,000 towards the cost of bringing the case,” said Davies, one of the founders of the Croydon Arts Forum.
“We remain convinced that what Croydon Council is doing is unlawful, because they have acted against their own policy. We know this because Croydon Council, and senior cabinet members such as Steve O’Connell, Dudley Mead and Tim Pollard, received legal advice – also paid for by Council Tax-payers – to tell them that.”
Davies said that the council’s claims that it could not afford to look after the Riesco Collection safely are also untrue. As Inside Croydon first reported, according to a confidential council document it would cost a one-off £60,000 to install the security required by insurers at the Riesco Gallery, and around £20,000 a year in premiums.
“The one-off cost of upgrading security at the Riesco Gallery is little more than half of what Councillor Pollard and his wife receive in their council allowances every year,” Davies said.
“The council had to be forced, through a Freedom of Information Act request, to admit that they had not bothered to pay any insurance premiums on the Riesco Collection for at least five years.
“But from the council’s secret document, we found that the cost of the premium was less than is spent annually on drinks and canapés for councillors and their friends at the Mayor’s official inauguration.
“We know that Croydon Council has ignored most of the conditions laid down by Raymond Riesco nearly 50 years ago when he made a gift of his priceless collection to the borough because we have obtained the agreement – although only after Croydon Council was forced to release the document through a Freedom of Information Act request and kept Council Tax-payers waiting for almost a month for the information,” Davies said.
“We know that Croydon Council has behaved unethically over this sale, because the Museums Association determined as much and has withdrawn from Croydon its formal accreditation, meaning that our borough-run museums and galleries cannot now borrow artefacts from other, accredited museums, nor will they qualify for grants from the Lottery or the Arts Council in future.”
Davies remains sceptical about whether any of the money raised from the sale of the Riesco Collection will ever be used, as the council has claimed in mitigation for its latest act of cultural vandalism, for the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls. The refurbishment has been promised for more than eight years, with the costs of the scheme rising all the time. “Once the items from the Riesco Collection are sold in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks, they will in all likelihood be lost to the people of Croydon, of London and of Britain, forever more, without any guarantee of how the proceeds will be used,” Davies said.
The local campaigner was adamant that the strength of her group’s case was strong, but “eventually we were ill-served by the English legal system”, she said.
“The idea of a Judicial Review is that it supposed to allow ordinary, hard-working, tax-paying residents to seek the intervention of a judge when they believe that their local authority has behaved wrongly.
“But while Croydon Council was able to use its full-time staff and legal team, all paid from our Council Tax, and to call on its massive resources, again paid for by local residents, our group of volunteers and arts enthusiasts had to work in our spare time to gather the documents and evidence and to raise funds to pay for the legal challenge,” Davies said.
“In the end, we were unable to do that because the entry level set before we could get our day in court, even before we could get the opportunity to put our arguments before a judge, was more than £20,000.
“Croydon Council, using money from our Council Tax, set out to stop us putting our case. Eventually, they succeeded because we could not match their resources.”
In thanking all the campaign’s donors, Davies said that all the money received so far will be used to pay the legal costs of trying to hold our council to account.
And she added: “The residents’ campaign to protect and revitalise our borough’s arts and heritage will continue.”
- Riesco objections: Croydon Council’s squandering our heritage
- Is Croydon on the brink with £1 billion borough debt?
Coming to Croydon
- The Kings of Summer: Nov 11
- St Giles School open morning: Nov 13
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Summer in February: Nov 18
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- 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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- Council faces massive compensation bill over housing failings (insidecroydon.com)
- Almost a third of town halls considering council tax rise (express.co.uk)