This is a round-up of last week's stories about the St Ann's Well saga in Malvern


A DAMNING report has laid bare the Malvern Hills Conservators’ shambolic handling of a row about the popular St Ann’s Well Café.

It reveals that:

  • A personal dislike of tenant John Redman influenced attempts to have him remove
  • He was offered £50,000 to walk away from the busines
  • There was no clear plan about what to do with the café even if they were successful in removing him
  • Conservators did not understand what they were legally entitled to do, and what they were not.

The report

THE Malvern Hills Conservators pursued their campaign to remove John Redman from St Ann’s Well despite receiving legal advice not to and having little genuine intention of running the café themselves, the official inquiry into the affair has revealed.

The café provides a unique attraction on the slopes of the Malvern Hills, serving vegetarian and vegan food with a menu that includes freshly made soup, organic pasties and homemade cakes.

Its quirky charms have made it a particular favourite of celebrities including poet Benjamin Zephania and actor Martin Shaw, who were both quick to sign a petition against Mr Redman’s 20-year tenancy being brought to an end.

As early as April 2009, the Conservators were informed by their solicitors Harrison Clark they stood only a 50 per cent chance of opposing Mr Redman’s application to renew his lease and they possessed “a very vague and unsettled intention” of managing the facility themselves.

The report says “working with the tenant and negotiating improvements, appears never to have entered the corporate mentality” and concludes “running the café for themselves was not initially a genuine primary intention, but, rather, a means to an end.”

It also suggests personal animosity towards Mr Redman was allowed to influence the Conservators’ actions, with the report saying: “Minds were set against the tenant remaining and the whole board was convinced by an influential core of members that services at St Ann’s Well could only be improved if the tenant was removed.”

The Conservators are responsible for managing 3,000 acres of land across the Malvern Hills.

Decisions are made by a 29- strong board, with 11 members elected by the public and the remainder nominated by Malvern Hills District, Worcestershire County and various parish councils.

The organisation is funded using public money, with about two-thirds of costs covered by a levy imposed on council tax payers. The balance comes largely from grants and parking fees.

But in March 2010, Mr Redman was offered £50,000 to simply walk away as the Conservators refused to discuss anything except him leaving the café, because they felt the relationship between landlord and tenant had broken down irretrievably.

Mr Redman’s solicitor suggested he may have considered about £75,000, while at that month’s board meeting the director suggested he was looking for a sum of £125,000 to £150,000.

While the inquiry report found no evidence of any “improper intent” from board members, it did uncover a lack of understanding of their own powers stemming from Acts of Parliament, their duties as trustees and their rights and responsibilities under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

They compounded these failings by only budgeting for the successful removal of Mr Redman, which led to spiralling costs and a total expenditure of £78,765.17 – a figure that was not incurred dishonestly, according to the inquiry.

This figure includes the legal costs of the Conservators and Mr Redman, which reached £37,970.02 and £28,508.65 respectively, along with £8,886.50 spent on producing business plans, acquiring PR advice, food consultant services and architects services.

It was decided an additional sum of £43,000, covering the time spent on the issue by the director and other officers, should not be included in the final total.

A new five-year lease was finally signed in May 2011 following a series of protests, petitions, mediation sessions and negotiations, with the only change being an increase in the rental charge from £4,500 to £5,500.

The inquiry set in motion in December the same year, with a budget of £5,000.

John Redman's reaction to the report

THE tenant at the centre of the high profile St Ann’s Well dispute says he feels fully vindicated by the findings of the report.

John Redman, who has run the café for more than two decades, believes the findings show he and his supporters were right to fight all along.

He said: “I think it’s not just for me for but all the members of the public that asked questions and supported me – 6-7,000 people chose to disagree with them on Facebook.

“I would like to thank the inquiry committee for all the work they have put into producing this report, the general tone of which I find encouraging.

“It is very pleasing to see the report recognises there was no substance to the unfounded criticisms of the way my staff and I run the café.”

He said he was now looking forward to working with the new Conservators director Stephen Bound, adding: “We feel fully vindicated by the report even if we don’t agree with it in its entirety.”

Those doubts centre on how the inquiry can find that there was no breach of trustees’ duty by the Conservators involved, while at the same time identifying ignorance, negligence and prejudice. The chairman of the inquiry committee, Carl Attwood, says in his report that the process was never intended as a “witch-hunt” or to incriminate individuals, but to identify weaknesses in the Conservators and propose ways of improving their work.

Apology for John Redman

FIRST came the damning report and now the tenant at the centre of the long-running St Ann's Well café dispute has finally received an apology.

John Redman received the declaration of regret when the board of the Malvern Hills Conservators met for a special meeting on Thursday to hear the findings of its internal inquiry into the affair.

The apology comes after the committee’s report revealed a catalogue of failings and how the Conservators pursued their campaign to remove Mr Redman despite receiving legal advice not to and having little genuine intention of running the café themselves.

It was given a heartfelt delivery by board member Roger Cousins, who said: “The board extends a formal apology to John Redman, his family, his staff, members of the general public and all those affected by these events as well as the staff of Malvern Hills Conservators past and present.”

Mr Redman, who has run the café on the slopes of the Malvern Hills for more than 20 years, said: "I am generally very, very pleased and obviously feel vindicated by the apology.

"I want to say thank you to all the people that supported me, clearly I could not have done it without massive support from the people."

He added: “We have got to move on, there’s no point throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Carl Attwood, chairman of the inquiry committee said the apology was central to the work carried out looking into the row.

“It’s important that people acknowledge things have to be put right by apologising. There’s a genuine feeling of wanting to move forward.”

Rev Attwood added: “For me the whole premise of what we were asked to do was to work out what happened and that has been achieved. Now we will move on and do the second part.”

During the meeting at Lyttelton Well, in Church Street, the board also moved to acknowledge the report and its findings of major failure as well as recognising the need for reform.

The second stage comes with the intention of defining the necessary reforms and planning their implementation.

The recommendations, and the apology, were accepted 17 votes to one, with Chris Cheeseman the only board member to oppose the motions on the wording of the apology.

Where next for the inquiry committee?

RESTORING public confidence is the next task facing the inquiry committee.

In his report, inquiry committee chairman Carl Attwood talks of a desire to set change in motion to avoid repeating the same mistakes again.

“The length of time during which the St Ann’s Well episode has run on has been reputationally damaging to Malvern Hills Conservators,” he said.

“This episode should now be left behind in order to allow Malvern Hills Conservators to continue its work within a balanced and reasonable public arena. Public confidence should not rely upon the mere recognition of past failures.”

The inquiry committee will be working to produce a number of recommendations, while, in the longer-term, consideration may be given to whether to retain its dual status as a charity and statutory body or create an entirely new Malvern Hills Act to govern the organisation.

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