Breedon villagers lose hall legal battle
A community group has lost its multi-million pound legal battle over the use of a village hall.
Breedon-on-the-Hill Community Association in Leicestershire acted after the county council evicted members from the hall at St Hardulph's Primary School.
After a protracted legal battle a Chancery judge has now ruled in favour of the county council.
The judge will decide later who will pay the legal bills.
The county council had faced a multi-million pound bill if it lost the case, including the fees for the association's no-win-no-fee lawyers.
The group had had free use of the building since contributing £3,000 towards its foundation in the 1960s.
But the council then asked the group to agree to new security conditions and hire fees.
At a preliminary hearing in 2009 a judge urged the parties to settle the issue after hearing the council had already run up a £1m legal bill - enough to build several village halls.
On Friday Mr Justice Sales finally came down in favour of Leicestershire County Council, ruling it had done nothing wrong in attempting to levy charges on Breedon on the Hill Community Association (BOTHCA) for use of the hall's facilities.
He said the council had done nothing to encourage hostilities between BOTHCA and the governors of St Hardulph's Church of England Primary School, to which the hall is attached.
The council had "responded appropriately" as personality clashes in the village drove the dispute to the legal brink and had "actively sought to encourage" joint community and school use of the hall, he said.
Even though BOTHCA had contributed £3,000 towards the building of the school in the 1960s - and the council accepted it owned the hall on trust for the local community - the judge said there was no binding agreement that BOTHCA could use it free of charge.
The council, he said, had "genuine and legitimate" concerns that not all BOTHCA members who used the hall would have undergone Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks and the school's head had proper concerns about the safety and well-being of her pupils.
"This seems to me to be an entirely reasonable attitude for a head teacher to take. There is no doubt that the council's concern with CRB checks was entirely genuine, despite the objections of BOTHCA".
The judge said the dispute had riven the village to such an extent that the local vicar, the Reverend John Dawson, felt he had to resign after his plea for calm and co-operation between the warring sides "fell on deaf ears" .
George McDonald, for BOTHCA, told the judge his clients would now be considering mounting a challenge to his ruling in the Court of Appeal.