Northern Ireland

Derry City Council responds to Browne-Lecky charity claims

Derry City Council has responded to a claim that it owes two charities thousands of pounds from ground rents.

The charities - The Actors' Charitable Trust and the Musicians' Benevolent Fund were each left half of the remainder of Raymond Browne-Lecky's estate after his death 50 years ago.

Mr Browne-Lecky, one of Northern Ireland's more colourful characters, died in 1961.

To date the charities have each received £25,000 from his estate - but they say they are owed much more.

The charities believe most of the money they should be receiving comes from the ground rent for the City Swimming Baths on William Street in Derry which is run by Derry City Council.

However, about 15 years ago that money stopped and no-one really knows why.

In total the council only has to pay close to £600 a year in ground rent - which may not seem like much - but when you add up all the years that haven't been paid - it comes to around £10,000 - which means £5,000 for each charity.

Robert Ashby from the Actors' Charitable Trust said he knows exactly how they could spend the money.

He said: "If we had £300 a year that would pay for a child who had been orphaned to have a holiday and to learn how to pay the piano. Two good things that wouldn't happen otherwise.

"Five thousand pounds back pay - we have children desperately waiting for specialist equipment - we would just do it straight away - it really changes lives."

So why did the money stop?

The BBC has the documents to show that the council was liable to pay these ground rents as far back as 1962.

We also have the documents to show that they had been paying it sporadically as late as the early 1990s - but then the council sent a letter asking for proof that they owed the money.

They wanted a copy of the deed - but solicitor Hugh Logan - who has been looking after the estate for around 30 years - said that wasn't something they were able to produce.

"The actual document couldn't be turned up but the fact that the ground landlord, and we are acting on behalf of the ground landlord, couldn't produce what is called the counterpart deed - the copy deed - the original deed would be in the hands of the person who holds the ground, ie. Derry City Council."

And the BBC has seen a copy of that deed belonging to Derry City Council - and it clearly says on it that the ground rent is to be paid forever.

So we asked the council why they had stopped paying the ground rent and if they had any intention of paying the two charities the money they owed.

In a statement sent through to the BBC last week the council said their financial records did not go back that far - but that they would be happy to meet with representatives from the charities to review the matter.

In a second statement sent to the BBC by Derry City Council on Monday - the council further clarified that they do not have any outstanding demands for ground rent on the property and would encourage the charities to get in contact with them directly.

Both charities have said they will contact the council again. We will keep you up to date with any developments.

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