Saturday, 19 November 2011

Appeal Court judge slams "murky dealings" in Southwark

I have had not had a chance to post this as I have been busy with a myriad of things but here is a press release that was issued by my friend Raymond Stevenson at the end of last month, following his unsuccessful attempt to have his case against Southwark Council heard by the Court of Appeal. Raymond was the proprietor of the cutting edge nightclub 'Imperial Gardens' in Camberwell. I posted about this some months ago following the failure of his appeal against Southwark Council in the High Court last year - which I attended as an observer. Raymond was also a campaigner for the rights of BMER people and particularly for small black and minority owned businesses in Southwark. I supported him in his campaign in Southwark some years ago and in the 2006 local elections in Southwark, he gave me his endorsement as someone who supported the anti-racism campaign when I stood as a candidate in Camberwell Green ward, where I live.

Raymond's story is in this week's issue of 'Private Eye' magazine in the appropriately named 'rotten boroughs' section and he and his business partner Lucilla Hilton, continue to run a successful recording studio and agency for up and coming young black talent in Camberwell. Raymond was effectively shafted by both Labour and Lib Dem administrations in Southwark, and the behaviour of some council officers was deeply suspicious. It is clear that there are still many questions to be answered and the Appeal Court judge is clearly sympathetic to his case. I wish him luck with his brave and tenacious campaign for justice stretching over nearly a decade now, where many others would have given up.


Dated: 31.10.11
Appeal judge slams council’s ‘murky dealings’
Southwark Council ‘s “exceptionally murky dealings” have been slated by an appeal court judge.

Lord Justice Thomas was giving judgment in a case brought by the former owners of the Imperial Gardens nightclub in Camberwell, Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton. It followed their high court action seeking damages for misfeasance by the council, following alleged corruption by a former planning manager.

Lord Thomas said it “involves what can only be described – and I use these words deliberately – exceptionally murky dealings in the London Borough of Southwark. I am satisfied this is a case where there would have been very, very strong evidence of mal-administration. The question is: does what happened amount to misfeasance?
“The murkiness arises from the conduct of Mr [Mark] Dennett [former area planning manager].” Outlining the background, where a planning application by Fairview Home s for a residential development was within three metres of the nightclub, Lord Thomas said he thought it was obvious that it would be incompatible.

He also said it was quite clear that no steps were taken to involve the claimants in the planning application, believing that “one of the obvious possible explanations is ... corruption”.

However, referring to the way the high court case was conducted, Lord Justice Thomas said that despite the council’s “distinct murkiness” the claimants “have to show that the action of Mr Dennett in not putting the file before the committee was deliberate misfeasance. The judge found against them on that and the allegation of corruption is disavowed.”

His lordship said he could not allow the appeal because of the findings made by the high court judge. However, he made the decision “with considerable reluctance, and underlining the fact that there appears to be a very strong case of mal-administration against the London Borough of Southwark”.
Appeals must be based on points of law, and not a re-examination of facts already decided by the trial judge. However, there was no mention on the £500,000 offer made by former council leader Nick Stanton, despite two council representatives confirming that it was made in their presence. Only Stanton said it had not occurred.

Raymond Stevenson commented following the judgment (full copy attached) that Lord Thomas’s views about Southwark were damning. “In particular, it shows the weakness of the decision by the local government ombudsman in accepting the council’s arguments that the flats would have been given permission had all the information been available. Lord Justice Thomas refuted that assertion.”

Stevenson believes that “numerous council officers attempted to mask their behavior in a deliberate and dishonest way”. He also compared his case with Southwark’s recent decision not to approve an application for flats to be built 60 metres from the Ministry of Sound nightclub at Elephant & Castle.

“Even though we believe the MOS outcome is correct, what is clearly of concern is that black businesses are not afforded the same protection. Who are we to suggest that Southwark Council only considers businesses relevant if they are run by white corporations with deep pockets?”

He also recalled that Lord Herman Ouseley’s inquiry in 2005 highlighted discriminative treatment by the council in regard to Imperial Gardens. “We have always believed that part of the council’s motivation for treating us this way was due to its consistent discrimination against black businesses in the borough.”

Stevenson also referred to his company’s huge success in producing the anti-gun crime film Don’t Trigger for the Home Office, and in developing the talent of singer Jessie J. He believes that had Imperial Gardens continued as a talent factory, many more young people could have found fame and fortune.

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