The first full day hearing of Brent Council vs Leonard Johnson (representing Bridge Park campaigners) was beset by technical problems. There was a small attendance of barristers etc and a witness in the socially distanced court; but many others, including the Kilburn Times and Wembley Matters, Muhammed Butt, Margaret McLellan, Carolyn Downs and other Brent officers plus Bridge Park supporters, were observing on Skype.
Unfortunately the sound was very poor, breaking up and fading in and out, and the physically present witness, Ms Henry's responses to the Bridge Park Counsel's questions could not be heard at all.
To misquote, surely justice must be heard to be done?
The day started with Brent Council's Counsel questioning the status of the Bridge Park campaigners, pointing out the various entities: Bridge Park Community Council, Harlesden Peoples Community Council, Stonebridge Community Trust and made the case that as an unincoporated association they had no status to make a claim on the property.
She also questioned the status of Leonard Johnson claiming that he had stated he was no longer a Trustee of the HPCC, although it was he who had launched the original campaign in 1981 and was named as defendant today.
Michael Green QC, who is hearing the case, said that if the defendants had a potential beneficial interest in the land it would be unfortunate if it was ruled out on a technicality.
Brent Council submitted that the acquisition of the property (the former bus depot) and its funding was by them. Other uses had been considered and council documents referred to the site as a 'property that formed a substantial asset' for them. Counsel for Leonard Johnson pointed out that acquisition of a freehold can be subject to a pre-acquisition agreement that would name it as a community resource.
Brent Council Counsel claimed that Bridge Park was in disrepair, expensive to run and would cost £4m to maintain over the next 5 years.
Counsel for Johnson claimed that Brent Council was moving forward with its plans without taking into account its obligations to the charitable purposes for which the HPCC was set up. He said the context of the original acquisition of the land should be taken into account. The original campaign sought to set up a community resource that would enable Stonebridge to avert the riots that had engulfed Brixton and Toxteth in 1981. Brent Council would acquire for the Steering Group that would then be incorporated. There was an option for them to acquire the freeehold of the site but they could not afford the £1m plus needed. The purchase had been funded from various sources with the Council only paying half.
We could not hear the responses of a witness, Brent Council solicitor Marsha Henry, who was asked about the original purchase. She was physically in court and inaudible, but the next witness, Thomas Bryson, Leader of Brent Council at the time, could be heard loud and clear over Skype.
He said there had been a fear of riots in Stonebridge in Spring 1981 and the council had flooded the area with community workers supported by Leonard Johnson, a local youth, and others. The alternative would have been the riot squad moving in which was something the council did not want.
Leonard Johnson had been in the forefront of setting up the HPCC and a community campaign to purchase the bus depot site for a community centre. The proposal had been supported by the local police ('not those in Whitehall') with whom the council had a good relationship.
The then London Transport Executive had given the Council a deadline for purchase, after which it would go on the open market. The help of Ken Livingston and the late Illtyd Harrington, who were then at the GLC, enabled the council to get a good price.
The Stonebridge Bus Deport Report at the time had been signed by Tom Bryson with Leonard Johnson signing the Forward. Questioned, Bryson said it was a partnership, neither of them could have done it on their own.
He said that at the time money was tight, Brent Council was unable to fund the purchase from its own resources (they had to impose a 58% rate rise in 1982) and so he 'took my boys' to Brussels to get some funding, as well as asking the government and GLC money.
At this point a recording or telephone conversation interrupted proceedings, drowning out counsel and witness, and the hearing was adjourned until 10am tomorrow morning.