John Weth (Plaintiff) v HM Attorney General

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
JudgeMr Justice Neuberger
Judgment Date29 Apr 1999
Judgment citation (vLex)[1999] EWHC J0429-8
Docket NumberCH. 1998-W-No.241

[1999] EWHC J0429-8

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

Before

Mr Justice Neuberger

CH. 1998-W-No.241

CH. 1997-W-2284

Between:

In The Matter of The Charity Known as The Society of Christ The Sower Trust

John Weth
Plaintiff
and
Her Majesty's Attorney General
Defendant
Between:

In The Matter of The Charity Known as The Society of Christ The Sower Trust

(1) John Weth
(2) James Muggleton
Plaintiffs
and
(1) Her Majesty's Attorney General
(2) Adrian John Lawrance Randall
(3) Jillian Wilkinson
Defendants

Mr John Weth the plaintiff appeared on his own behalf.

Mr William Henderson and Miss Louise Davies (instructed by the Treasury Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the defendants.

This is an official judgment of the court and I direct that no further transcript or note be made.

The Hon Mr Justice Neuberger

Mr Justice Neuberger

MR. JUSTICE NEUBERGER:

INTRODUCTION

These are appeals by Mr John Weth against:

1

(1) the appointment on 4th February 1997 by the Charity Commissioners ("the Commissioners") of Mr Adrian John Randall ("Mr Randall") as receiver and manager of a charity then called The Society of Christ the Sower (and now called the Little Gidding Trust) ("the Charity") ; and

2

(2) the removal on 17th December 1997 by the Commissioners of Mr Weth and of Mr Muggleton as trustees and committee members of the Charity.

All references to sections are to sections of the Charities Act 1993 ("the Act") unless the contrary is stated to be the case.

THE FACTS

Before Mr Weth's Trusteeship

The Charity was established by a trust deed of 17th September 1971 "to further the advancement of religion particularly by pilgrimage to the church at Little Gidding", with four trustees. Under the terms of the trust deed, the Charity was to be run by a Committee which, pursuant to a deed of amendment made on 5th April 1989, was to consist of twelve members of whom between two and four were to be trustees. Subsequently, by a resolution of the Charity made on 21st September 1994, decision-making powers were delegated to a Committee consisting of at least five members ("the Committee") .

The assets vested in the Charity included residential properties at Little Gidding which were let from time to time to individuals who formed themselves into a Christian community, and many of whom performed the function of welcoming visitors or pilgrims to Little Gidding.

From its inception, the Charity was effectively run by one of the original settlors and trustees, the Reverend Anthony Hodgson, until he retired around 1977, when the Reverend Robert Van de Weyer took over the spiritual leadership of the community. In 1979, his wife, Sarah became a trustee. Between 1980 and 1990, the community appears to have varied in size between about 6 and about 20 adults. In about 1986, Mr and Mrs Van de Weyer purchased a residential property to which they moved; it was called Castle House, and was located about six miles away from Little Gidding. Members of the community and visitors to Little Gidding were from time to time put up in Castle House as an alternative to Little Gidding.

By 1991, Mr Van de Weyer had become chairman of the trustees, and the evidence suggests that he was in practice not only the community's spiritual leader but was effectively in charge of running the community, the Charity and their respective finances.

Members of the community would often arrange to make loans to the Charity during the time that they lived in Little Gidding. An arrangement which appears to have been undertaken quite often was along the following lines. On joining the community, and moving to Little Gidding, a person might sell his house and, if he did so, he would make an interest-free loan to the Charity of some or all of the proceeds of sale; on leaving the community, he would be repaid his loan, increased or decreased by reference to an assessment of general change in house price levels during the period of the loan. Such an arrangement appears to have been very informal and obviously depended to some extent on goodwill and trust: there do not appear to have been any written agreements in relation to the loans; there could be disagreements about the level of change of house prices during the relevant period; the Charity might need time to repay the loan, or might only be able to repay the loan in stages, particularly if the loan fell to be repaid at a time when other loans were due to be repaid.

Quite apart from this, it also appears that loans were increased from time to time and partly paid back from time to time to members of the community even during the period of their residence at Little Gidding. During the period 1991 to 1994 the Charity's affairs appear to have been run in a fairly unconventional, indeed a pretty disorganised, way. There is no question that proper accounting records were not kept, and it may well be that some of the records were lost. There were a number of different bank accounts controlled by different people with no co-ordination. There was intermingling of the Charity's funds with those of the Van de Weyers (and possibly of others) . Substantial works, said to cost in the region of �180,000, were carried out to the buildings at Little Gidding by a Mr Fitzgibbon, who was overseen (which may well be too kind a word) and paid by Mr Van de Weyer without, apparently, being required to keep any record of his expenditure or any invoices relating to such expenditure. A property was purchased by the Charity for �100,000, apparently lent by Mr and/or Mrs Van de Weyer, at Gains Lane, Great Gidding ("Gains Lane") , on which about �68,000 worth of work was carried out by Mr Fitzgibbon, again without invoices and records, and under the aegis, such as it was, of Mr Van de Weyer. The records of loans from members of the community, and of increases and decreases in the loans were very informally recorded, and in particular (as I have said) do not seem to have been the subject matter of any written agreement or record signed by the Charity and the lender. If the Committee minutes I have seen are accurate, many matters of financial significance, particularly relating to the building works to which I have referred, were not reported to the Committee, and those that were reported appear to have been considered very sketchily and briefly. In addition, there were payments of rent on Gains Lane (let through Mr Van de Weyer to Mr Fitzgibbon) , as well as of certain royalties, to Mr Van de Weyer, which should at least arguably have been paid to the Charity. It is fair to add that there were payments made by people staying at Castle House (which, it will be recalled, was owned by Mr and Mrs Van de Weyer) which appear to have been paid to the Charity. The accounts of the Charity were kept by a Mrs Veronica Gray until 1994, by which time she was over 85 years old.

By 1994, there was, not surprisingly, concern among the trustees and among members of the community over the financial affairs of the Charity, and Mr Van de Weyer suggested that a third party be approached to take over from Mrs Gray. To that end, he approached Mr Weth, who had joined the community with his wife earlier that year. Mr Weth agreed to become secretary to the trustees in May 1994. Shortly thereafter, Mr Van de Weyer suggested to Mr Weth that he take over overall responsibility for the management and administration of the Charity generally, as he, Mr Van de Weyer, no longer wished to be involved in that aspect. Mr Weth agreed, and, accordingly, in September 1994, he replaced Mr Van de Weyer as a Committe member, and indeed as chairman of the Committee. The Committee consisted of Mr Weth, Mrs Van de Weyer, Mrs Wilkinson and Mr Muggleton plus to others who subsequently resigned. Mr Richard Jephson, a solicitor and a trustee, became a member of the Committee in about March 1996. This reflected the resolution of 21st September 1994 to which I have referred.

Mr Weth's active trusteeship

Following his taking over of the management of the Charity, Mr Weth carried out investigations, as a result of which he became very concerned, because, while Mr Van de Weyer had been effectively in control, he "had allowed the Charity's affairs to become confused with his personal finances" and because the Charity's financial records appeared to be generally in disarray. It is clear that Mr Weth expended a great deal of time and effort conscientiously investigating matters, in order to identify what information was available and what was lacking. He made more than one set of detailed requests of Mr Van de Weyer, only some of which were answered. He prepared draft accounts for the year to 31st March 1995, accompanied by a detailed seven page report suggesting that a number of matters needed to be looked into, and that the Charity's affairs needed to be regularised; he also recommended that an auditor should be appointed to prepare finalised accounts, and that the Commissioners be contacted with a view to being appraised of the situation. His recommendations were accepted at an annual general meeting of the Charity held on 2nd June 1995. On 27th July 1995, the Committee resolved to instruct the Bedford office of a firm of accountants, Neville Russell ("Russells") , to whom, a week later, Mr Weth wrote a characteristically detailed letter setting out his concerns, and identifying in some detail the various problems which, as he saw it, existed.

On 28th August 1995, Mr Weth prepared a sixteen-page "Report for Trust Committee Meeting with Robert Van de Weyer" setting out what he called "unpleasant issues which must be faced and tackled", which were essentially the same problems as he had referred to in his letter to Russells.

Meanwhile, Mr Weth's recommendation of contacting the Commission was also accepted, and, together with Mrs Wilkinson, he met officers of the Charity Commission ("the Commission") on 7th September 1995. In...

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