Guest post by Meg Howarth
On 13 February, Brent council confirmed that ‘we have passed the police all the information they have requested in connection with Kensal Rise Library and that we continue to co-operate fully with their enquiries’. The police had previously stated that ‘[we]have been informed that there is further evidence to support the allegation of fraud and are awaiting receipt thereof. A decision whether to progress the allegation will be made after all the evidence has been scrutinised’ (Police may look again at email fraud evidence in Kensal Rise development, Wembley Matters 6 February).
So a police investigation in to the apparent fraudulent use of local, and other, residents’ addresses in support of a change-of-use planning application for the Mark Twain library is finally underway - five months after the Friends of Kensal Rise Library and others first reported the matter to the council. The Kensington and Chelsea force is handling the affair - developer Andrew Gillick’s head-office for his Platinum Revolver/Kensal Properties firms is in the royal borough.
There is currently no indication of when the police will decide whether or not a prosecution will follow.
Mr Gillick’s original planning application for one of Brent’s few remaining historic buildings was unanimously rejected by the council’s planning committee last September but it’s understood he has a revised application in the offing. That is why a speedy resolution to this tawdry affair is required. Despite the council’s official line that it,
has a responsibility and obligation to consider any valid planning application that is put forward from any individual(s)...consider[ing] each on its merits in accordance with its statutory obligations’ (Christine Gilbert, acting chief executive)
most people will find it incomprehensible if the planning committee is asked to determine a further application before the outcome of an active police inquiry is known. Speed does not, of course, mean cutting corners.
Meantime, some niggling questions remain:
Why wasn’t all the information and evidence the council had amassed handed to the police in the first instance, instead of what appears to have been a summary of its findings?
Would an investigation have been launched sooner if the police had received a complete dossier earlier?
Why did it take 10 days before council leader Muhammed Butt’s late-night tweet on 31 January stating that the police weren’t pursuing the investigation - the first (and last) anyone’s heard of the City Police’s NFIB (National Fraud and Investigation Bureau) initial decision to take no further action? The head of Brent’s Audit and Investigation department was informed of this on 21 January but was taking ‘advice’ on what he was ‘able to disclose’. In the event, he never disclosed anything. Did the council want to ensure vacant possession of the site by landlord All Souls College, Oxford)? It knew the completion of the sale of the building to Andrew Gillick was conditional on vacant possession and that the final date for this was 31 January - its lawyers are the only third party to have seen the Binding Agreement to sell the building to this developer. Vacant possession was, of course, achieved by All Souls sending in its heavies at 6am to demolish the pop-up.
Back at the beginning of October, Brent’s legal boss, Fiona Ledden wrote about Brent’s own inquiry into the fraudulent emails that: The [council’s] investigation is continuing and there have been some complications in relation to the work undertaken. It would not be usual to publish findings of any investigation, there may however be some conclusions that we will be able to share’.
At that stage, it seems the council didn’t anticipate police involvement.
So what changed, and when? Was it the information the council received early in November that a property owned by Andrew Gillick in St Mary’s Terrace, Paddington was sub-let at the time an online-comment using that address appeared in support of the council’s own planning application for the Barham Library Complex? Mr Gillick, the only supporter of that proposed development, was slated to speak at the planning hearing but failed to attend. It was this same address that was previously used twice to support his own change-of-use application for Kensal Rise Library. Any developer is entitled to support her/his own application but if the comments using the developer’s W2 address were submitted in his name when someone else was living there, that surely could give rise to allegations of fraud?
Information about this, like the theft of Kensal Rise businesswoman Kirsty Slattery’s address which was used to support the developer’s change-of-use application for the 110-year old library building, appears to have been sent to the police only this month.