Tuesday 28 July 2020

Leonard Johnson at Bridge Park hearing: 'This was going to be a legacy for our community - for the future' Blames Council's 'skulduggery' for project's downfall

Annoyingly, and not good in terms of seeing and hearing justice being done, on-line observers could not hear the first 15 minutes of today's cross examination of Leonard Johnson, the defendant by Brent Council's Counsel.

Ms Holland QC for Brent Council suggested the fact that the council had to give the Bus Depot Steering Group a licence to enter the site showed that permission had to come from them because they had no rights to the property.

Mr Johnson replied the project could not have continued without such a licence because they were part of the tendering.

Holland returned to the now familiar refrain that HPCC was managing and running the project. There was no community ownership by HPCC or any other entity.

Johnson retorted that it was theirs because it was they who went for the depot. If they'd got professionals involved, they could have done it for themselves. 'It was our project but the council dropped on us. It was for the community.'

He said, 'The council should be the defendant, not us. The council gave us licence and lease but I don't agree they were the owner. The council was a big enough organisation to help us but we could have got developers to do it, just like the council is doing now.'

Answering a further question Johnson said, 'All along I had confidence in the council to do what we wanted. We were naive - we were youngsters.'

Turning to the lease on the depot, Holland said there was no documentation about signing the lease on condition of it including a right to buy the freehold.  Mr Johnson said he did not sign the lease because they didn't get the freehold.  His experience was that you couldn't trust the council when it came to leases.

The Judge asked if there was any correspondence regarding the lease. Johnson replied that he went to the EC (European Community) to get the full amount. He didn't want the MEP to represent HPCC.

Holland reiterated that it was Brent Council's case that there was no understanding, no representations, no agreement that there was a lease giving an option to buy.  She went on to ask Johnson what entity had interest in the property.

He replied that it was the organisation they were going to setup to take over the running of the project. not the Steering Group, that would transfer to a new organisation. This would be for the whole community - not just parts of it. It was never set up. This was council 'skulduggery'. 'They have a poisonous tongue that goes back into their belly.'

He concluded, 'We fully accepted that it would go to the community. It was our building - our project. The Black African Caribbean contribution has been not just for a few years but for hundreds of years - it was our money as well.'

Referring to Charles Wood, former Brent CEO, Mr Johnson said that he had no credibility, 'He never expected us to succeed.'

Questioned further he said that the council had helped, the leader of the council was excited about their visions. It was a partnership: 'where is that partnership now? '"This is what we are going to do to you and your community."'

Johnson said that they believed this project was going to be a legacy for 'our community - for the future.'

When Ms Holland said the assets were down to the nature of the vision - 'not because you felt you had an option for the freehold?' Johnson said he did not agree, 'All the assets, licence, leases, freehold - everything we did was about owning the project - not a nice place for the council to claim the credit for.'

Holland repeated there was no documentation regarding ownership and no record of any representations. Johnson replied, 'I have said before, it was our initiative, we were doing it for ourselves.  We were going on our own and the council got involved. They let the building deteriorate. They wanted to make us obsolete. They are stealing from us if I can it that strongly.'

Holland suggested that they were benefiting from being able to take the profit from Bridge Park. Johnson retorted that they were paying back bank loans at a high rate of interest. Loans that were unnecessary because the council could have gone out with them to get a loan.  When Holland pointed out they had income from Bridge Park before then Johnson said they had ploughed it back into the project.  'We were helping people set up businesses. The income helped us retain what we were trying to achieve.'

The Judge asked if the loan was repaid and Holland replied that the council had paid it, including interest.

Johnson said at the time of the Midland Bank loan things were haywire at the project. Money was being taken away. He said the council were the author of their own misfortune. They were looking down the road at a £50m project sold for £12m to a developer. The loan was nothing in comparison to the contract the council was now engaged in.

Ms Holland about the document written by Charles Wood that summarised the complex reasons why the project failed. Johnson said that Wood was 'being economical with the truth'. He organised the downfall of the project with the councillor on the board (mentioned yesterday).  Lettings to various groups stopped. 'When the councillor came on the board, that's when our downfall began.'

Johnson said that reports about him and the project were what orchestrated the failure. Allegations that millions had been stolen from the project. 'Mr Wood, no one from the council, refuted the allegations. It was in the Daily Mail, the local paper..'

The Judge intervened to say that Mr Cottle, the defendant's Counsel, had not wanted him to see the press cuttings as he didn’t think they were relevant. Turning to Mr Johnson he said, 'I understand you don’t accept the council's account of the end of the project. We are just going to have to disagree on that. The fact is that it did fail in the 90s.'

Ms Holland turned to the subject of charities.  She said HPCC was not a charity but had an aspiration that the future organisation would have charitable status. That is the only reference to charity in the case.

Johnson said that HPCC had charitable aims, they were doing charitable work as volunteers. They were never a private organisation working for profit.

Holland pressed, 'There was no question or discussion that the property was being held by a charitable trust at the outset.'  Johnson replied that they had been volunteers from day1, donations and all been voluntary. Holland quoted Charles Wood's evidence that he didn’t recall any discussion of charitable status or that it was held on trust.  All witnesses at the time said the same thing. HPCC was not a charity. Johnson replied that they and to be a charity to get the money - 'we were a voluntary organisation.'

Ms Holland said that the application for restriction on the sale was made in 2018 but Johnson had not done anything or layed claim regarding the property. Johnson said, 'We wasn't consulted. They just told people what they wanted to do.'

The next interchange was about Johnson's status as a trustee with the existence of a constitution for HPCC being doubted by the Brent Council Counsel and affirmed by Johnson. Holland referred to the original report that said the HPCC council was 10 people, elected by 60 young black adults, - it had no written constitution. Mr Johnson said that they were developing a constitution at the time. They wanted to be unincorporated - not part of something bigger.  Holland responded that they didn’t want to be like other organisations.

Johnson then claimed that there was a constitution and Holland asked why it hadn’t been revealed in the papers. The Judge intervened to say it might be in the second tranche and they needed to get to the bottom of the issue of whether there was a constitution.

Holland then asked for evidence that Johnson was a trustee.  Johnson said he had always been a trustee but didn't know if it had been written down. There was a document appointing him Chair of HPCC.  The Judge asked if there were minutes of HPCC meetings. Holland said there was one document that was not described as minutes but may serve as one.

Attention turned to Leonard Johnsons' Defence Statement and Holland pointed out it said, 'Mr Johnsons should not be a party in these proceedings. She said, 'Why shouldn't you?'

Johnson said, 'I’ve never seen the document. I can see my name there; I can see I signed. Maybe, there is a gentleman called Mr Mastin, the thing is...'

The Judge asked if he disagreed with the content of the document.  Johnson said that he had gone through days of reading documents. He wasn't well. Holland challenged asking, 'Are you saying you don't read them? You don't really care what they say?'

Johnson: 'I do read them and I do care.'

Holland said, ‘The document says that as HPCC is unincorporated you are not a trustee. Are you disagreeing with that statement?'

Johnson asked for time to read the document again. He thought he had read it before he came to court.  After reading he said, 'I'm trying to think why I signed this.'

Holland quoted, 'HPCC is and always was unincorporated' and 'was not a trustee.' The Judge interjected to say that it could be a legal statement.

Asked by Holland about the statement that he should not be a party to the case, Johnson said he didn't know how he had missed the 'not'. He said he had been working and had asked for more time to get witnesses and Brent Council refused.

Holland then asked him about the statement that he'd resigned from Bridge Park, saying that it must have come from him. Johnson replied, 'I don't know what I have done here.'

Johnson was then asked about the transfer of HPCC to Stonebridge Community Trust (HPPC) Limited.  The transfer had taken place before any claims to the property.  Johnson couldn't remember if the committee had put it together without any legal advice.

Referring to the dates on the document Holland said two predated 8th May 2019 when there was a claim that SCT (HPCC) had an interest.

John said that was the vehicle they were using now.  It is still one and the same organisation.  The Trust is the organisation HPCC were transferring everything to.

Re-examining Mr Cottle checked which document Johnson was refusing to sign and he said the lease document which didn’t include an option to buy. Cottle asked who Ted Watkin was. Johnson said that was an American entrepreneur from Watts County.  He told HPCC what he was doing at a meeting at Hill Top. He gave a presentation about independence and self-sufficiency in front the of the Chief Executive and councillors. They had performances and put on a show.  Johnson said, 'The idea of having assets came from us, He agreed. Richard Gotch shared a document on how we could own our own assets.' The report by Tom Bryson refers to an understanding that lease should have an option to acquire the freehold. 'The meeting with Ted Watkins allowed us to look at ownership, He made several trips to advise us.'

Cottle referred to the GLC document that spoke of a 'unique idea'. Johnson said he had met Ken Livingstone and his deputy and told them about their aims. Mike Bichard was there. They all agreed and Ken Livingstone backed the whole programme.

Cottle asked about Wimpey surfacing the Bridge Park car park and whether there had been more private funders. Johnson said there were a number but remember them off the top of his head.  They contributed to construction work.

The next section was distorted by unmuted phones and phone conversations taking place and I can’t report on it with accuracy.

Johnson said he was a trustee and chair of HPCC.  The reason he was sitting here now was because he had been called back by the community and the leader of the Conservative Party in Brent. 'They said, "They're going to sell Bridge Park," I said, "They're not!" '

The Judge asked what HPCC had been doing since the 1990s. Mr Johnson said they had run training programmes, events, work with churches, activities. A number of things had been going on.

The Judge asked if since that time he had heard about Brent’s plans. Did he have a continuing interest?

Johnson said there was a continuing interest. Funds were cut, the bar was closed, because it had become a free for all, undesirable people began to infiltrate. People who there by then couldn’t control it. That culture took over. He had thought that the council going back would flush them out but they also threw out the new group that wanted to work with them.

The Judge asked if at any time he had said to the council that they still had an interest in the property.

Johnson replied that HPCC members still used the building. They still had an office there and put on activities.

The Judge asked it if was only when council released the [redevelopment] plans that Johnson was re-energised. Johnson said it was when the council began to run it down. People were saying the council was trying to sell it. They were taking leases away from people and issuing CPOs 'I came back and said it's not fair.'

The Judge then asked Johnson what he wanted out of it. Johnson replied, 'I want a partnership. I want the council to reform the partnership.  We get the freehold and we work with developers.'

The Judge asked, 'You want to reinstate what was there in the 80s?' Johnson replied, 'I think there's a dynamic group of people who could work together with the developers.'

The Judge remarked, 'This case is going to need more work between the parties - encourage them to get together.'

Johnson told Mr Cottle, who had resumed re-examining, that they had continued to meet in the building. 'I told the council you can't stop us having a meeting there.  I made it clear it wasn't their building.'

The Judge told Mr Cottle it would be helpful if Mr Johnson could find the constitution.

There was a break at this point. I will write about the evidence of Paul Anderson, Bertha Joseph and Richard Gotch tomorrow.

There is no hearing tomorrow.  The court resumes on Thursday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Martin. Whatever the outcome of Brent v Bridge Park, your detailed reports are allowing the community to follow the case, and will provide good a record of it for the future.