The-Latest - EXCLUSIVE
British Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman has been summoned to give evidence at the high court in a controversial case where a businessman is suing town hall chiefs for millions of pounds in damages.
Black former nightclub owner Ray Stevenson has waged a seven-year campaign for justice after a London council was found guilty by a local government watchdog of going ahead with plans to build new homes that he says cost him his business. Harman has backed him but because she has not submitted a witness statement as requested she has been subpoenaed to appear before a judge on Wednesday.
Stevenson alleges that Southwark Council’s action was racist because he and other black firms in Camberwell, south London, were not consulted before the bulldozers moved in.
The case, that started in 2003 when Stevenson’s Imperial Gardens nightclub went bust, reaches the high court this week. Stevenson, and his business partner Lucia Hinton, are suing the council for £9m. They claim Southwark Council acted negligently when it gave developers the go ahead to build new homes next to their popular Imperial Gardens nightclub.
The duo alleges that the club and other black businesses in the area were ignored in the council’s consultation process before the redevelopment was given the green light. Two council officials were suspended after a local government watchdog found in favour of Stevenson and Hinton. Fraud squad officers were also called in to investigate council planners. A legal bill of almost £400,000 has been run up by Southwark town hall bosses. The 30-day hearing at the high court is likely to see that figure top £1m.
Harman backed Stevenson’s campaign as his local MP. She got the council to launch an independent inquiry. The district auditor subsequently issued a report that confirmed the council had failed to consult Imperial Gardens about the development and presented a series of damaging findings. Harman is being called by Stevenson and Hinton as a court witness.
In its heyday, Imperial Gardens was so successful that Stevenson and Hinton were able to use money raised from club nights to run a record label, dance and theatre workshops. Bands such as Big Brovaz, the R'n'B act that had four top 10 hits, performed PAs. Stevenson and Hinton also worked with acts as big as Prodigy.
The club once employed 70 people. It housed studio space, rehearsal rooms and staged large-scale events showcasing the talents of many young artists such as So Solid and Floetry, who wrote the track Butterfly for Michael Jackson.
Hinton said: “We shall relish our time in court so we can publicly witness the unveiling of the truth. We look forward to the cross-examination of council witnesses, forcing them to explain what really happened.”
A Southwark council spokesman said: “We have carefully considered the claim that has been brought against us and concluded that it is in the best interests of our borough’s residents that we continue to defend it.”