Therfield Regulation Trust claims Conservators ‘are not legally separate’

Therfield Heath, which is owned by the Therfield Regulation Trust and managed by the Conservators of

Therfield Heath, which is owned by the Therfield Regulation Trust and managed by the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens. Picture: Harry Hubbard - Credit: Archant

Lawyers for the Therfield Regulation Trust have claimed the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens ceased to exist as a separate legal entity in 1979 – apparently rewriting decades of documented Royston history.

The claim was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office by the Regulation Trust’s lawyers Hewitsons last month, in a letter secured through a Freedom of Information request and seen by the Crow.

The letter relates to the ICO’s noting in a decision this May that the Conservators – who have run the heath and greens since being appointed by statute in 1888 – are a separate legal body from the Regulation Trust, which has owned the land since 1979.

While deeming the two bodies separate, the ICO accepted the Conservators’ claim they had no income or outgoings of their own and that the Regulation Trust’s accounts covered all transactions relating to the heath and greens.

But in their letter, Hewitsons claim trustee and Conservator are different governance roles within a single legal body, though the same people often fill both posts, and that the Conservators – historically referred to as the ‘Therfield Regulation’ – were “recharacterised as” the Therfield Regulation Trust in May 1979.

This seems to contradict reams of historical documentation – including the Conservators’ 1979 statement announcing the land’s acquisition and transfer to the newly-formed charitable trust. This statement refers to the Conservators retaining their management role “pursuant to their statutory powers and authority”, as granted in 1888.

Minutes of the Conservators’ meetings, seen by the Crow at the county archives in Hertford, likewise contradict the claim.

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The minutes record that at a 1981 meeting, then-Conservator Peter Limbach said they were “two separate bodies” – a point he repeated at later meetings, saying at that time the Conservators had income and expenditure but the Regulation Trust did not.

A 1992 letter from accountants Hardcastle Burton to the Conservators’ then-clerk Philip Gough says “it is clear there are two separate entities involved” – adding that it appeared the Regulation Trust charity had never at that point filed returns.

A note in the archive with the 1992 financial papers advises that in response to the Charities Act 1992, as “a reversal of past practice” and to have funds tax-exempt, money “should be shown as belonging to” the Regulation Trust and not the Conservators.

As recently as May 2017, Hewitsons – in a letter to heath campaigner Clive Hall – claimed to represent both the Regulation Trust and the Conservators, adding that they would “refer to ‘our clients’ unless it is necessary to distinguish between the two”.

Mr Hall has ridiculed the new claim that the two are one legal entity, telling the Crow: “The evidence is overwhelming, and it beggars belief that the trustees would claim that the Conservators ceased to exist in 1979.”

He speculated that it was “an attempt to legitimise the Conservators’ expenses appearing in the trust’s accounts”, and called for the Charity Commission to open a statutory inquiry.

Hewitsons told the Crow on Tuesday night: “We confirm that the correct position is as set out in our letter to the ICO.”