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Petitioning Chairman of Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators Prue Whyte

Charity Trustees lost over £1.5m. Now they must act to recover it.

The Trustees of Wimbledon and Putney Common Conservators must act immediately to recover the £1,500,000 they lost when selling access rights on Putney Common in 2012.

Prue Whyte, Chair of the WPCC must:

1)    Accept the Montagu Evans LLP ‘Qualified Surveyors Report’ (QSR) confirming that the grant of the Easement on the proposed terms was not in the best interests of the Charity and that the value in 2012 was at least £1.9m;

2)    Acknowledge that the losses occurred as a direct result of the failure by Trustees to follow the Charity Commission’s written instructions;

3)    Immediately suspend Sir Ian Andrews, Derek Frampton and Dr Ros Taylor the three Conservators who were in post in August 2014 when the access rights were undersold;

4)    Suspend the Chief Executive Simon Lee from all matters relating to Putney Hospital as he signed a letter to the Charity Commission in January 2015 saying the Charity had adhered to the Charities Act law when selling the access rights, despite this being untrue.

5)    Instruct solicitors to conclude an immediate legal review of how to recoup the losses to the charity.

Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Common – 1,140 acres of open space - were saved from enclosure by the WPCC Act, passed by parliament in 1871. Today the commons are owned by a charity which is controlled by eight Conservators (Trustees); five are elected by residents and three are appointees of government departments. Each year over 60,000 residents of Wimbledon and Putney pay over £1,000,000 a year to the charity for the upkeep of the commons through their Council Tax.

The Act confirms the need for the commons to be kept open, unenclosed and unbuilt on and that the Conservators are to preserve their natural state. They have failed to do so.

In 2012, following years of dithering, the Conservators signed an agreement with Wandsworth Borough Council (WBC) to build a road on the Common to access the land-locked Putney Hospital site, bought by the Council for £4.4m. When accepting WBC’s offer of just £350,000 (7.37% of the site’s value) the Trustees failed to follow the steps laid down in the Charities Act 2011 on how rights over land should be valued and sold. They did the deal in secret, and claimed that they had followed the law. This has since been shown to be completely untrue. 

In September 2015 the board of Trustees received a Qualified Surveyors Valuation (QSR) by Montagu Evans LLP, commissioned by its own Audit and Risk Committee, which clearly demonstrates that the value of the access was worth at least £1.9m. Despite what appears to be an ongoing cover-up conducted by a majority of the board – including three Trustees who were in post in August 2014 – the full QSR report has been made public but continues to be ignored by the majority of the board.

In October 2015 the Charity Commission stepped in to resolve disagreements among the Trustees and presented a detailed five-point plan. Although accepted, no progress has been made towards recovering the loss.

As a signatory to this petition I urge that the above steps must be taken without further delay or prevarication before the end of 2016, and that the Conservators must be completely open with levy-payers and the wider public about the progress being made. The Trustees have a legal and moral duty to act in the best interests of the charity to recover these substantial losses.

If they do not, the Charity Commission must step in.

This petition was delivered to:
  • Chairman of Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators
    Prue Whyte


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