Police investigation into Hackney estates sell-off

Hackney Independent recently received the following email:

“Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the sale of six Hackney council housing estates to Southern Housing Group Limited.

The investigation, spearheaded by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, will uncover whether disgraced former Secretary of State John Prescott instructed the land registry to go ahead with the sale after a freezing order was served on them by Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.

Although a freezing order can only be cancelled by a High Court judge the land registry said they had cancelled it. Enquiries are centring on why the cancellation letter dated 9th March, 2000 was not posted till 16th March.

Land Registry has admitted it was held back until Southern Housing had lodged their sale documents – thus making any further freezing order ineffective.

Tenants have complained that, although it was guaranteed that each estate in Hackney’s Estate Regeneration Strategy Group 6 – George Downing, Hillside, Hindle House, Keates, Kennaway and Stamford Hill – would vote separately on privatisation, Southern Homes lumped all the votes together when they announced the results. Lincoln Court’s vote (95% against) was not aggregated and they remain council tenants. Hillside’s similar vote was formally notified to Prescott by the Hillside Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association under Schedule 3A, Housing Act 1985 so that he could not legally consent to the transfer.

Southern Housing Group wrote to all tenants saying that estates voting in favour would join a new local housing company with tenant representation on the Board and invited them to pick a name and nominate tenant members.

Southern Homes (Hackney) Limited was chosen and a shadow board set up.

The sale documents were prepared in the name of Samuel Lewis Housing Trust Limited which has no tenant representation.

Tenants also complained that when they were first notified of the transfer proposals the estates were removed from all repair programmes and they were threatened that if they did not vote for privatisation their homes would fall to pieces around them. They went to Court after a pane of glass fell from a second – floor window on Hillside, narrowly missing a small girl, and roof tiles began blowing off Pembury in bad weather.

Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (SHETRA) invited Southern Homes to a public meeting on the estate to discuss the issues.

They never responded. Following the disappearance of the people who
were running it in 2000 (notably Sue and Roger Kingham and Linda and Chris Woodard) we put three questions to them:

(1) Southern Homes have been collecting the 10p a week tenants’ levy
from all tenants since 6th March, 2000. What have they done with this

(2) The last published accounts (for 1998/99) submitted to the Charity
Commissioners by Mrs Woodard, the then Treasurer, showed an income of £50,000. Where is the money now?

(3) Who told the Charity Commissioners that the Association (registered charity number 107470) had ceased to exist?

No response was received.

The freezing order is still in force, but that has not stopped Southern Homes building a new estate for sale at Hillside, without planning permission, and commencing construction of flats and bungalows for sale at George Downing and Stamford Hill, also without planning permission.

Hackney have confirmed on many occasions that they own the group six estates. At Thames Magistrates’ Court on 7th October 2004, in evidence to District Judge Stephen Dawson, Mr Van den Burgh, a Court Officer for Hackney council, confirmed that they own the estates and Southern Homes are there purely as managing agents. Southern Homes argued in Court that, although they acted fraudulently, their name was on the land register and therefore they own the estates. This is nonsense. Section 114 of the Land Registration Act provides:-

“… any disposition of land or of a charge, which if unregistered would be fraudulent and void, shall, notwithstanding registration, be fraudulent and void in like manner.”

Section 116(1) provides that any person who is involved in any interference iwth the land register is liable to go to jail. Section 116(2) provides:-

“Any entry, erasure, or alteration so made by fraud, shall be void as between all persons who are parties or privy to the fraud.”

After hearing the evidence Judge Dawson decided that Hackney own the estates and recorded this in his written judgment.

There is no prospect of Southern Housing Group getting planning permission for any of their developments. Even if the directors manage to complete them before getting thrown in jail they will never sell them.

One of the questions which prospective purchasers’ solicitors ask is “Has any work been done on the property in contravention of planning regulations?”

The shops in Broadway Market and Dalston Lane are not protected by a freezing order but the situation – attempted gentrification of council property by a developer claiming to own it – is likely to be similar.

Because of the fraud Hackney keeps title.

Chris Bourbour,
Stamford Hill Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.”