Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Imperial Gardens - A defeat for natural justice

My friend Raymond Stevenson and his partner Lucia Hinton have lost their case in the High Court against Southwark Council. During November I sat for several days in the court and listened to the evidence from Raymond, various officers from Southwark Planning Dept and others. This case gained the support of the black and ethnic minority in Southwark where several years ago there were large demonstrations in Raymond's favour and Lord Herman Ouseley came to the conclusion that the borough and its officers were "institutionally racist". Southwark have just spent a huge amount of money fighting the case and feel justified with the judgement which they have placed on their website.

However, the following press release by Raymond and Lucia puts the other side of the story. Once again the establishment has triumphed over those who have dared to speak out against injustice. One of Raymond's biggest critics in the borough was Cllr John Friary, who was a councillor in the ward where Raymond's nightclub was based. Only this week it has been announced that he has had to stand down as Cabinet Member for Community Safety because of his arrest for paedophile activities. Other councillors who were involved in the case have left but some still remain. And former Cllr Hunt, mentioned in the press release, remains an example of a dignified and honourable politician who spoke out against corruption and paid the price within his own party. His evidence about the out of court settlement offer was not even accepted by the judge, that is, it was not heard by the court although he offered to go in the witness box under oath. I look forward to reading Raymond's book later this year.

Press Release

Contact: 0207 701 9950

Judgment: Imperial Gardens v Southwark Council

The long-delayed judgment in the case of Stevenson and others v London Borough of Southwark has found in favour of the council and against Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton, owners of the former Imperial Gardens nightclub and talent factory in Camberwell.

They were suing Southwark for £9.1 million – a sum determined by a distinguished QC based on the value of similar businesses. It shows yet again that justice in England is hard to come by for poor individuals of any colour against big organisations exploiting a judicial system dominated by the old school pals club.

For Stevenson and Hinton, this case was about more than money. “In many ways the victory is ours even though the verdict was not in our favour,” they say. They are consulting lawyers and the Law Commission about mounting an appeal.

“We will regroup and appeal; but the sheer relief of the first instalment being over is some comfort. This case was always about the council having to justify unlawful behaviour by a series of lies which the judge accepted.”

But the Judge accepted that the council were grossly negligent which was obvious to all who attended the trial held in October and November last year. But Southwark ignored their moral duty to hide behind the fact that Council’s can be negligent without suffering the consequences, which leaves Southwark in a position to abuse more people.

“Sadly we live in a world where liars and cheats prosper,” says Lucia Hinton.

“The question is whether Southwark Council has learnt any lessons,” asks Stevenson. Few are convinced – especially the poor long-suffering taxpayers who will have to pay £3 million costs the council has incurred prior and during the trial. They won’t be able to recover any from the claimants, who are Legal Aid protected.

But that is not stopping the highly vindictive attempt by Southwark Council to retrieve some money by perusing the Estate of the third shareholder, Michael Taylor, who died waiting for the case to come to court.

A sacrificial black Planning Case Officer has been held to blame in the delay in determining the Imperial Gardens Application even though he was exonerated by the District Auditor, Ombudsman and the Council Overview Scrutiny Report.

The Judge stated, “Mr. Leigh in his closings submissions, submits, first, that 'someone' deliberately created a file in September 2000 to be consistent with an allegation that Mr.Allanah took over the case at the same time; and second, the only hard copy of the real file was removed from the paper file that would have shown that the Defendant would have been in, or at least might have been in, a position to determine the Imperial Gardens application by April 2000. There is no evidence as to the identity of the person who created the file in September 2000. The reason why it was done is unclear.

"I am not surprised that once again racism rears its ugly head from a Council that Lord Ouseley found deferential treatment in regards to the Imperial Gardens case. Phil Chambers the Planning Officer overseeing the Council's case, orchestrated the racism which judging by the evidence had been going on against black officers for over 10 years’, states Stevenson.

In regards to the sacked Planning Manager Mark Dennett the Judge concluded, “I consider Mr. Dennett’s evidence to have been unsatisfactory in certain respects. In particular I find it difficult to accept that he did not know of the existence of Imperial Gardens before he received the letter of complaint from Mr. Stevenson in March 2002.

Jonathan Hunt, the former Liberal Democrat councillor who first took up the case of wronged constituents, said that the judgment is flawed and inconsistent.

“The Judge accepts he was told a farrago of lies, but does not seem to believe they had any bearing on the case. For example, four of the five people present at a meeting in December 2003, including two members of the council team, said that council leader Nick Stanton offered the claimants £500,000 in compensation. Yet the council testified that not only was the offer never made, but that the meeting never took place. To restore our faith in justice this case has to go to the court of appeal. ”

The Hon Mr. Supperstone concluded, “Undoubtedly there were serious failings in the planning process, in particular in relation to the failure to consult THK on the Fairview application. The offer to pay the claimants £500,000 may have been made in recognition of these failings and their consequences”.

Stevenson and Hinton say: “The fight continues – this time without the shackles of us being gagged due to court proceedings. We thank our legal team Teresa Johnston, Michael Webster & John Palfrey (Webster Dixon), Kevin Leigh & Phil Williams (No5 Chambers), The Legal Services Commission and everyone for their support and we look forward to the next stage in this fight for justice.”

Stevenson’s book, published later this year, The Carnivorous Council’, is a pictorial tour of Southwark Council’s corrupt and murky dealings over the last 20 years. It starts with a parallel story of Stevenson’s Uncle whose community project was based on the Peckham site which now houses the Library and Swimming baths. It takes an in-depth look at The Imperial Gardens case, the lies and misnomers that were spread by vicious officers and councillors. It picks up on other sordid behaviour of Councillors and their attempts to marginalise black, poor and ethnic communities.

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