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Barry Legg - the paper trail
Andrew Hosken

Both the asbestos scandal and the pension scandal involving Barry Legg are well documented.

According to the inquiry commissioned by Westminster Council, the decision to place homeless families, including many children, in tower blocks containing asbestos was taken by Barry Legg and other senior councillors on February 21st, 1989. The minutes show BL - or Barry Legg - to be the Chairman of the meeting.

The man who conducted the inquiry, John Barratt told Today what he wrote in his own report seven years ago: "The decision on which action was taken was made at a Chairman's group on the 21st February 1989. I'm in no doubt about that whatsoever. It was a decision, which flew in the face of the evidence that the tower blocks had major problems because of asbestos, and the health risks associated with asbestos, which had been well known to the senior decision makers in Westminster since at least 1982."

John Barratt is a former Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council. He started working in local government in 1952 and has acted for many local authorities as a consultant. He has also conducted recent inquiries into paedophile scandals involving Hackney Council and Lambeth Council.

His report, entitled "Report of a Documentary review into the use of Westminster Council of Hermes and Chantry Points, Elgin Esate, Westminster, for Housing purposes given the presence of Asbestos materials 1980-1991" was issued on January 24th, 1996.

His report also confirms that the decision was taken at a meeting of the Chairman's group on February 21st, 1989. The report frequently mentions the importance of the meeting.

The report was published on January 24th, 1996, and made headline news. Tony Blair, then Leader of the Opposition, called on John Major to condemn what happened.

The report made damning conclusions. The decision had been taken, not for genuine housing reasons, but rather for the "improper purpose" of fighting a group of local campaigners in the Paddington area of London. In other words, homeless people had been used as pawns in a political game. Barratt said that senior officers of the council had been trapped into "defending the indefensible". His report said that people's health had been placed at risk.

Aside from the health risks, there is the issue of lawfulness. In a letter to Bill Roots, the then Chief Executive of Westminster City Council on March 3rd, 2000, the District Auditor John Magill (of Deloitte and Touche Forensic Services) said that decisions that were made by councillors who were acting without proper authority were unlawful as his notes make clear.

In his interview with Today, Mr Barratt makes clear that the "senior decision makers at the council" knew about the asbestos problem at the 2 tower blocks "since at least 1982", at least 7 years before it decided to move in the homeless families.

He told us: "It was a decision which flew in the face of the evidence that the tower blocks had major problems because of asbestos, and the health risks associated with asbestos, which had been well-known to the senior decision makers in Westminster since at least 1982."

The Today programme has obtained literally hundreds of documents detailing the history of the 2 tower blocks.

Among the more interesting is a Masters thesis about the tower blocks prepared by Graham Farrant, while he was a senior environmental health officer working for Westminster City Council. We have a copy of the thesis, entitled: "Investigation into the potential release of asbestos affecting residents of the Elgin Estate, off Chippenham Road, London W9". Mr Farrant worked for the Housing Department of Westminster City Council when homeless people were being moved into the tower blocks, Hermes and Chantry Points, which were on the Elgin Estate, off Chippenham Road, London W9. Click on the document on the right hand side to see what he said.

The Today programme has also obtained documents which show that the Tory councillors who controlled Westminster had considered using the tower blocks for the homeless in 1987. They had decided not to because "the blocks are riddled with asbestos". One document, prepared by Councillor Patricia Kirwan, the then Chairman of Westminster Council's Housing committee makes that clear. It's dated March 30th 1987. Click here to read Councillor Kirwan's document.

Again the pensions scandal involving Barry Legg is extremely well documented.

The affair was investigated by the then Pensions Ombudsman, Dr Julian Farrand. His full report is entitled: "FMC Superannuation and Life Assurance Scheme Ltd", REFERENCE C11520. Complainant: R.E. BURT. It can be found on the web site of the Pensions Ombudsman

The report was determined on October 11th, 1995. Dr Farrand ordered Hillsdown to re-pay £18.4m it had received from the FMC Pension Fund, plus interest, making it a grand total of approximately £30m.

Hillsdown Holdings appealed against the determination. But lost. At the High Court on July 12th 1996, the Honourable Mr Justice Knox upheld the decision by the Pensions Ombudsman, ruling that the decision to transfer the pensions surplus had been "in breach of trust", "unlawful", "unjust", and an act of "maladministration".

Mr Justice Knox said that Hillsdown had been "unjustly enriched" by the payment.

The original FMC Pension Scheme had rules that prevented the payment of the pension surplus back to the employer, in this case Hillsdown Holdings. The rules also prevented the trustees of the fund from changing the rules to allow such a transfer.

The money was extracted in the following way. The FMC Scheme was merged with a pension fund for Hillsdown Holdings. This scheme also stated that no such surplus could be paid over to the employer. But there was nothing to prevent that rule being changed. So it was.

The money was transferred from the FMC scheme to the merged scheme. A company called HF Trustee was set up to managed the merged scheme. The directors voted to transfer the pension surplus to Hillsdown Holdings.

Barry Legg was a director of all 3 bodies: FMC Trustee, HF Trustee and Hillsdown Holdings, where of course, he was Company Secretary. Mr Justice Knox said he had "a foot in all 3 camps". The only other person in all 3 camps was the company Chairman.

Barry Legg wrote a letter to Today explaining his defence on both the asbestos and the pensions affairs.

Read the minutes of the Informal Meeting of Chairmen
Read the Barratt Report commissioned by Westminster Council
Read the District Auditor's letter
Read part of Graham Farrant's dissertation
Read Cllr Kirwan's report
Read Barry Legg's letter to Today
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