OLD SPOTTED DOG GROUND LIQUIDATION IN THE HIGH COURT – LATEST SITUATION

Clapton FC chief executive Vince McBean’s attempt to take sole control of the Old Spotted Dog stadium lease was back before a judge in the Royal Courts of Justice today and there are some encouraging signs for fans who oppose to it.

The 20-minute hearing in court 10 of the Rolls Building was merely about how the case will progress. A timetable was agreed by all parties – Judge Sally Barber, Mr McBean’s solicitor, and the solicitor acting for some other members of the lease-holding charity, Newham Community Leisure Ltd, who say they do not approve of the liquidation.

However, in what could be a significant blow to Mr McBean, the liquidator ST Bennett & Co, who did not attend, is now believed to accept that the liquidation cannot be pushed through before the current court case is heard.

Until recently the liquidator is understood to have argued that a recent compulsory winding-up order – filed by struck-off solicitor Antoinette Olivia Taylor on behalf of Taylor Bridge Legal Services for an unspecified amount owed for legal services from 2008 – superseded the members’ voluntary liquidation process, so he should be allowed to disburse the assets and shut down the charity. There are significant reservations about the provenance of this debt which CFC News intends to investigate.

If you are confused by all this – so are we. However, basically it means the attempt to force through the liquidation through the back door, via a winding order from a third party, looks to have stalled. The current legal action will have to run its course.

Mr McBean hopes to liquidate the lease-holding charity and, it is understood, transfer its assets to a new company, Veercourt CIC, of which he is the only director. Other members of the charity are attempting to block this. Mr McBean disputes that the other charity members were ever members, despite him personally appointing some of them, and others preceding his own appointment. The judge declined to go into the rights and wrongs of those arguments, that will be for another day.

The next case management hearing is scheduled sometime in late August with a full trial perhaps as far away as 2019.

Incidentally, Mr McBean’s new company Veercourt CIC, is already in danger of being struck off, being two months overdue in filing a confirmation statement. This document is merely an annual statement of basic details, such as who a company’s shareholders are and how much capital the company owns. It is a criminal offence to not file this document every year. Mr McBean, believed to be the only director, now risks prosecution and Veercourt CIC being struck off.

In the meantime, campaigners have renewed their appeal for those who care about London’s oldest senior football ground to sign the Save the Old Spotted Dog petition, calling on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act.

You can also join the mailing list and follow the Twitter account.

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CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG LAUNCHES WITH PUBLIC MEETING AND PETITION

People packed into Durning Hall in Forest Gate for the launch of the campaign

Over one hundred local residents and football fans gathered in Forest Gate on Wednesday for the launch of the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign.

Fears have been growing for the future of London’s oldest senior football ground as Clapton’s chief executive Vince McBean attempts to seize personal control of it by liquidating the charity which holds the lease.

However, rather than just watch it happen, all Clapton supporter groups joined forces for a meeting at Durning Hall to plan a course of action.

Representatives of Dulwich Hamlet gave an update and valuable advice on their own struggles keeping their historic stadium out of the clutches of property developers.

There were also fans of Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Waltham Forest offering support and solidarity during the 90-minute meeting.

Forest Gate Labour councillor Mas Patel addressed Durning Hall and both Labour MP Lyn Brown and Labour mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz offered their support and apologies for not being able to make it. Local Lib Dems and Greens were also present.

 

Mr McBean sent a representative to observe proceedings, who insisted that he was neutral, though it has actually emerged that he was the signatory to the attempted liquidation itself.

Regardless, it was a public meeting, and it ended with renewed belief that the Old Spotted Dog could be an invaluable resource and needs to be saved and reclaimed for the community.

The organisers said: “Thanks to everyone who came to the public meeting on Wednesday night to launch our campaign to save the OSD – the turnout was fantastic and the mood was overwhelmingly positive, which has really driven home how important it is that we save the Dog, not just for Clapton fans but for the wider community as well.”

After the meeting, a petition was launched to put pressure on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act. Read the full petition and sign it here.

You can sign up to the mailing list for more information on the campaign and to get involved.

A Twitter account was also launched: @savetheosd

S.O.S. CALL FOR LONDON’S OLDEST FOOTBALL GROUND THE OLD SPOTTED DOG

The Old Spotted Dog has taken a further step up the endangered species list.

The situation at London’s oldest football ground is now at a critical level, with a potentially unprecedented instance of a liquidation being pushed through despite a High Court injunction in place precisely to stop that happening.

It could leave Clapton’s historic home in the sole control of the club’s chief executive Vince McBean, instead of the charity which was set up to run it. And Mr McBean would have much more freedom to do what he likes with it.

The recap of the story so far reveals why Clapton’s fans groups, who are already boycotting home games, feel the ground is in grave danger if this happens…

Charity Commission investigation

Mr McBean was due to attend an interview with the Charity Commission on the 2nd March 2017.

This was his final opportunity to answer the Commission’s serious questions about his conduct and mismanagement of Newham Community Leisure Limited, the charity that leases the Old Spotted Dog from the freeholder.

Mr McBean had already postponed the meeting twice, on 22nd December 2016 and 19th January 2017.

New company set up to replace charity

Veercourt CIC was listed at Companies House just one week after the second postponement, on 26th January 2017.

Its only listed director was Mr McBean.

Voluntary liquidation attempted

A bid for voluntary liquidation of the charity NCLL was launched on 1st March 2017, the day before Mr McBean’s scheduled interview with the Charity Commission, seemingly in an effort to transfer the assets to the freshly incorporated Veercourt CIC.

With no charity left for them to investigate, the Charity Commission meeting was cancelled and Mr McBean was off the hook – briefly.

High Court injunction stops liquidation

On 10th April 2017, a trustee of NCLL and a life member of Clapton FC successfully halted the voluntary liquidation process and a High Court injunction was obtained.

On 19th July 2017, a High Court judge directed that the Charity Commission should be involved and any liquidation could not be completed until they had their say.

A long process of waiting for their report began.

Winding up petition

Unknown to the Charity Commission, or the people that had obtained the injunction, a winding up petition was presented to the High Court on the 6th October and their case was heard and approved by the Court in January 2018.

Liquidation attempt part two

This began another liquidation – this time involuntary – due to debts to an external creditor who has claimed they are owed money.

The purported creditor is Taylor Bridge Legal Services (TBLS), though there are no records available to show what the alleged debt is for, or even how much it is supposed to be.

TBLS is run solely by an ex-solicitor called Antoinette Olivia Taylor who was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in November 2012 for multiple cases of dishonesty and misrepresentation.

Asset of Community Value

A welcome complication is that Clapton fans managed to establish the ground as an Asset of Community Value in May 2017.

This also covers the adjoining garage, which NCLL actually owns the freehold on, unlike the rest of the ground where it is the leaseholder only.

Six months’ notice would need to be given to give the local community the opportunity to raise the funds to purchase it before it could be sold to anyone else.

This presents a ray of hope for the future of the ground as it cannot easily be sold off, but in reality the cost is likely to be out of reach.

As has been seen recently at Dulwich Hamlet, there are likely to be property companies waiting to swoop on valuable London land.

Despite the land being designated for sporting use, developers are often happy to sit on the land and even leave it unused until the council gives in and lets them build.

Boycotting fans

Relations between Clapton’s fans and Mr McBean had already deteriorated over the years.

Fan groups Friends of Clapton FC, Real Clapton and Clapton Ultras had sponsored the club’s kit, volunteered and promoted the hell out of games, helping attendances to averages of nearly 400.

However, things hit absolute rock bottom last season when fans turned up to a midweek game to find admission prices had been raised completely unannounced.

Last summer’s liquidation bid was the final straw and Real Clapton members voted to call for a boycott of home games, which was backed by all other fan groups, to avoid giving money to the person who was attempting to liquidate the charity.

Home attendances have since fallen by almost 90% with the Ultras’ iconic Scaffold stand looking empty and forlorn, though away crowds have kept on growing.

Garage sale

Mr McBean is rumoured to be keen to sell the freehold on the garage to cover the alleged debt to TBLS and then continue to transfer the lease on the Old Spotted Dog ground itself into his own name, under his Veercourt CIC company.

This would allow him to continue as he was without the scrutiny of the Charity Commission, creating a new platform from which to continue operating, bypass regulations and avoid any critical scrutiny and legal action.

Where we are now

That the situation has been allowed to get to this stage seems to be unprecedented and exposes failings at several stages – the High Court issued an injunction that halted the original liquidation, the Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL).

Months later, the same High Court allowed the next Compulsory Winding-Up Petition to proceed to Companies Court and appear to have failed to check the records at Companies House which still haven’t been updated to show a winding up petition, and at the Insolvency Service who are currently failing to act despite being made aware of the problem recently.

It is understood that the Charity Commission report into McBean’s mismanagement is now complete and awaiting publication. However, the report is yet to be published despite the severity of what could happen if the Charity Commission fail to step in.

What happens next

Statutory body after statutory body has failed to act so far.

Even so, the Insolvency Service, which is now responsible for the liquidation, and the Charity Commission, which has written but not published its report, remain the last hope to stop the destruction of an historic football ground and ensure its assets are used for community good.

The Insolvency Service must resolve the issue in conjunction with the Charity Commission, who must publish their report immediately and follow through by taking the appropriate actions that it raises.

We are told that Real Clapton will soon put out a call to arms of how you can help. In the meantime, you can contact them on info@claptonfc.info with any offers of support, suggestions or questions. 

Anyone with fond memories of the Old Spotted Dog’s history, or with bright hopes for its future, is encouraged to help.

Note: We would ask Mr McBean for comment, but he pledged never to answer any of our questions in an article on his website in November.

PUTTING THE OLD DOG DOWN – A TIMELINE FOR LIQUIDATION

It’s been a rough 2017 so far for Clapton Football Club off the pitch.

Reports of gross mismanagement from club hierarchy have overshadowed the Tons’ best league finish in nearly three decades and dogged the team’s early-season preparations.

With the players and coaching staff doing their best to keep things ticking over on the pitch, supporter calls for clarity and accountability continue to go unanswered over what many regard as a crisis at 212 Upton Lane.

Clapton Chief Executive, Vince McBean, has yet to publicly comment over his attempt to liquidate the charitable trust* that administers The Old Spotted Dog ground.

The historic site, home to Clapton for over 129 years, is now registered with ST Bennett & Co, insolvency practitioners based in Buckhurst Hill.

However, Mr McBean has continued to trade from the venue he is now legally estranged from, starting the new season with the blessing from the Essex Senior League and apparent tacit approval of the FA.

This legal contradiction has left supporters and some local residents deeply concerned about what is really happening down at the historic football ground.

With what information is available in the public domain, we’ve put together a timeline to try to help explain events leading up to Clapton’s famous home being placed into liquidation, and what has happened since at the beleaguered Old Dog.

 

22 Dec 2016​ – Trustees of Newham Community Leisure Ltd*, including Vincent McBean, directed to attend offices of the Charity Commission for interview. No trustees in attendance. Meeting rearranged for 19 Jan 2017.

19 Jan 2017 – Rescheduled meeting with the Charity Commission & Newham Community Leisure trustees again postponed due to non-availability of trustees. New date for interviews set for 2nd March 2017.

26 Jan 2017 – A new company, ​Veercourt CIC London, is incorporated at ‘Clapton Football Ground’, listing its Industry as ‘Operation of Sports Ground’. Veercourt’s only director is Vincent McBean.

1 Mar 2017 – Newham Community Leisure Ltd enters Members Voluntary Liquidation, appointing ST Bennett & Co as liquidator.

2 Mar 2017​ – Charity Commission interview, that had been postponed twice due to non-attendance of trustees, cancelled due to the insolvency entered the day before.

10 Apr 2017​ – Injunction obtained at High Court by a trustee of Newham Community Leisure Ltd and Clapton FC life member, placing a stay on liquidation.

15 Apr 2017​ – Essex Senior League Secretary Michelle Dorling writes a letter to the liquidator outlining the ‘continued harrassment’ Mr McBean is said to have endured and the league’s ‘integral’ role in attempting to help ‘defuse allegations’ made against him.

24 May 2017 – The Old Spotted Dog is awarded Asset of Community Value status by Newham Council following a supporter-led campaign.

22 Jun 2017 – Clapton FC given the ESL AGM as deadline to provide evidence it has the right to play home fixtures at the Old Spotted Dog. Mr McBean provides a document dated 19th November 2016 (prior to liquidation) as proof. This was accepted by the ESL.

19 Jul 2017 – Mr McBean is a respondent in a hearing at the High Court regarding the liquidation attempt. The judge directs the Charity Commission should be included in proceedings.

12 Aug 2017 – Clapton host their first home fixture on the 2017/18 Essex Senior League season.

 

*Newham Community Leisure Ltd is a registered charity, incorporated in February 1992. Previously named the ‘Clapton Trust Limited’ it was set up to independently administer The Old Spotted Dog ground. Vincent McBean became chairman of NCL in January 2000, shortly after taking over at Clapton Football Club.

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Werder Bremen fans join calls to safeguard the future of Clapton FC

NEWHAM COMMUNITY LEISURE LIMITED FILES FOR VOLUNTARY LIQUIDATION

After reporting last month that Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited had failed to file its Confirmation Statement and was being threatened with being struck off, we can now reveal, in extremely worrying news for Clapton fans, that Newham Community Leisure Limited, the company and charity which holds the lease on The Old Spotted Dog Ground, has applied for voluntary liquidation.

In documents published by Companies House it is shown that the members of the trust entered voluntary liquidation and appointed a liquidator, Stewart Bennett, on 1st March 2017. The document is signed by Vincent McBean, Ransford Taylor and Trevor Gordon, who are listed as being the majority of the trustees of Newham Community Leisure Limited.

The documents also show that the trust owes £203,478 in ‘Long Term Loans’, as well as £2,001 in accountancy fees. The cost of liquidation until the payment of debts in full is estimated at £19,095.

At the moment it is unclear how this will affect Clapton FC. In the short-term it is understood that before the 31st March, the club have to provide the Essex Senior League and the FA with proof of their being able to play at the Old Spotted Dog for the entirety of next season. As the insolvency process can take some months, it is unknown how this could be provided. This may also affect London Bari FC who also play at the Dog.

The trust was set up in 1992 as Clapton Trust Limited before changing its name a year later to Newham Community Leisure Trust Limited. In January 1995, the then Directors of the trust negotiated a 99-year lease with the freeholder Grand Metropolitan Estates, securing the land for use as a sports ground.

It was struck off in 2003 after failing to file accounts, before being restored by Vince McBean in 2009. It appears from documents filed at this time that McBean attempted to transfer the lease from the trust, however it seems he was unable to do so. Since then the trust has regularly failed to file its Annual Return on time and has been threatened with being struck off twice. According to Companies House, the most recent Confirmation Statement (the newer form of the Annual Return) was due by 18th February 2017 and is currently overdue.

Clapton FC News understands that Real Clapton FC are in contact with the Charity Commission and the Liquidator in an attempt to safeguard the future of the ground. You can become a member of the club here and/or donate to their Supporters’ Action fund here.