North West Wales

Garth Celyn Trust: Questions raised over historic land appeal

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Media captionSome historians claim Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great built his palace at Garth Celyn

A key figure behind an appeal to buy historic land near Bangor in Gwynedd is the mother of those selling it, a BBC Wales investigation has found.

The Garth Celyn Trust is trying to raise £180,000 to buy 24 acres of land at Abergwyngregyn, with Catherine Zeta Jones reportedly making a donation to help save it from development.

Some historians think medieval Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great lived there.

Katherine Pritchard Gibson denies any conflict of interest.

BBC Wales News has learned that the land the trust hopes to buy is owned by the daughters of Mrs Pritchard Gibson, a central figure within the Garth Celyn Trust.

Dewi Roberts, a member of Abergwyngregyn Community Council, told BBC Wales that questions have been asked locally about the transparency of the trust, and any possible conflict of interest arising from Mrs Pritchard Gibson's involvement with the trust and her relationship with the current landowners.

"As a member of the community council myself and other members are being constantly asked about exactly what is going on with the trust by the villagers," he said.

"The land is already in the national park so there would be very stringent planning laws to protect it against industrial development. This raises questions that need to be answered and there are many people who are worried about the situation," said Mr Roberts.

Mrs Gibson told BBC Wales that she has actively attempted to block the sale of the land to potential buyers so that the trust can buy it.

The land is due to be sold at auction on 13 June.

"If I can block that sale to anybody but the trust personally I will do - and I have tried so far very, very hard to do that," she said

Image caption Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is said to have made a 'generous' contribution to the appeal

"If they don't raise enough money in time to buy at auction or whatever happens, then the money will go back to the people who donated it."

Mrs Gibson registered the Garth Celyn Trust website, and also commissioned a land valuation report on the plot of land on behalf of the trust in March 2012.

Responding to allegations of a conflict of interest, Mrs Gibson said: "Even though I paid for the website I didn't do the website - that's been done by volunteers.

"Part of my donation is what I've done for the trust by giving time and money and I've helped the project in any way that I can and others do the same.

Charity status

"There's no more conflict of interest between me and anybody else involved in the trust."

Llewelyn ap Iorweth was the prince of Gwynedd until his death in 1240, but was also seen as effectively the ruler of much of Wales.

It is claimed that he sited his home at the village of Aber Garth Celyn on the edge of the Menai Strait, now the village of Abergwyngregyn.

He died at the Cistercian abbey of Aberconway, and the remains of his stone coffin are still to be found at Llanrwst's parish church in the Conwy valley.

Martin Price, an expert on charities and how they are set up, told the BBC that questions needed to be answered about the status of the Garth Celyn Trust, in relation to its fundraising activities.

"It's called the Garth Celyn Trust which gives an impression of it being a charity - looking after a piece of land or protecting a piece of land for the benefit of the public would look like a charitable purpose, and on the website it uses words like 'donate' and 'donation' and 'appeal' - so it looks like a charity," he said.

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Media captionRoger Pinney reports on the Garth Celyn fundraising appeal

"It doesn't actually use the word 'charity' anywhere on the website, but there's an implication there."

The Charity Commission, the watchdog overseeing charities in Wales and England, told BBC Wales that an initial application had been made by the Garth Celyn Trust to seek charitable status with it on 28 March.

Mrs Gibson added: "There could be a slight degree of ambiguity, but we've had legal advice - the trust has had legal advice on this - and it was a proper organisation with a constitution and a bank account - so it has status and rights.

"The fact that it wasn't a charity was more or less irrelevant."

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