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Westway Development Trust

The Sunday Times

Notting Hell

So where does the money go? It's hard to say, since after the trust established the nature of my inquiries it refused to speak to me. "I am more than happy to be co-operative and straightforward," Gordon initially wrote to the editor of The Sunday Times. "However, I would ask that reconsideration is given to my request to have advance information on the complaints made." Later, Gordon required any questions to be put in writing, and hung up when I called him at home.

Was the judge too busy? Unaware of any misconduct? What did he know? Did he turn a blind eye? In an interview before he broke off contact, he confirmed that his committee was running the Hardy-Smith pursuit, but he said only to collect money due under a "consent order" agreed before he took the chair in 1993. He refused to comment on the "red Golf" deception, since, he said, it was subject to official investigation. He denied that the trust was litigious, and said the carnival floats had been evicted from unused ground because they posed insurance risks. The carnival organisers were banned from trust land, he said, because of the state in which they had left it in the past.

Although he is a former chair of the borough's town planning committee and received detailed guidance in Charity Commission booklets on this subjects, he said that he didn't know the position on charitable rate and licence fee exemptions, which had never been raised at any management committee since 1993. "As a trustee," he said, "I would not see it as my role to review every single premises in the trust every year in respect of every aspect of its operation." He undertook to investigate the "intent" behind Matland's dealings with council officers, but in the event released no new information. "The question of whether the council was misled and whether or not rebates were allowable are, in the first instance, matters for the council," he wrote later. "I have therefore written to the leader of the council informing him of your allegations and inviting him to initiate an investigation with which the trust will co-operate fully."

In a conversation the following day, Matland denied misconduct of any kind. He said he didn't know the legal position on the rates and licence issue and refused to comment on the red Golf incident. Astonishingly, he said he didn't believe Hardy-Smith had even libelled him in the first place, and later wrote to me, as if this helped: "It was not until my trustees were legally advised of the seriousness of it all that it dawned on me."

Both Gordon and Matland suggested that the land inherited 30 years ago had been well and wisely used. Because the trust was a charity, it could bring funds to the area that the local authority couldn't. And, unlike the council, it had an innovative structure, flexible and responsive to needs. "The members of the management committee give up a lot of their time during the year because they happen to believe in the trust," Gordon said.

Their critics say they will now go to the Charity Commission, but they don't plan to hold their breath. When Hardy-Smith complained to this body about charity money being spent on suing him for libel, it replied in May 1999 refusing to tell him anything, declaring that its investigations were "not necessarily handled in a different manner from a charity support issue", and stating that after three months, "for financial and practical reasons," his "correspondence will be destroyed."

And so that's how I left the war that Sunday morning at Subterania, with a quick toast to the late Mrs Kelly. At 2.01am, the music stopped and I joined the crowd on Acklam Road, wondering how on earth the charity could get away with this stuff. And I couldn't help asking what else like this was happening across Britain in such unaccountable, unsupervised bodies. It seemed to me that here was a perversion of the very meaning of "charity", only brought to light by a quirk of geography - that its victims see each other in the street.

"They treat us like dirt," said Pat Mason, 50, a Labour councillor for the Golborne ward and a former trust employee. "People round here have been fighting them for years. It's like they think they can blow us away."

In July 2002, Judge Gerald Gordon finally resigned after nearly nine years as chair, and the enterprise renamed itself Westway Development Trust.

Read more by Brian Deer on charity in Voluntary Service Overseas, VSO

Westway Development Trust
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