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Cafe boss victim of plot to axe him, says shock report
A DAMNING report has laid bare the Malvern Hills Conservators’ shambolic handling of a row about the popular St Ann’s Well Café.
It reveals that board members pursued their campaign to remove tenant John Redman from the business, despite receiving legal advice not to and having little genuine intention of running the café themselves.
The café provides a unique attraction on the slopes of the Malvern Hills, serving vegetarian and vegan food. Its quirky charms have made it a particular favourite of celebrities including poet Benjamin Zephania and actor Martin Shaw, who were both quick to sign a petition against Mr Redman’s 20-year tenancy being ended.
The dispute finally came to an end in May, 2011, when a new lease was finally signed after almost two years of legal wrangling. However, an internal inquiry committee was set up to investigate how negotiations went so dramatically wrong and its findings were made public at a meeting last night.
Its report suggests personal animosity towards Mr Redman was allowed to influence the Conservators’ actions, saying: “Minds were set against the tenant remaining and the whole board was convinced by an influential core of members that services at St Ann’s Well could only be improved if the tenant was removed.”
The Conservators are funded using public money, with about two-thirds of costs covered by a levy imposed on council tax payers. The balance comes largely from grants and parking fees. But in March, 2010, Mr Redman was offered £50,000 to simply walk away as the Conservators refused to discuss anything except him leaving the café. While the inquiry found no evidence of any “improper intent” from board members, it did uncover a lack of understanding of their own powers. They compounded these failings by only budgeting for the successful removal of Mr Redman, which led to spiralling costs and a total expenditure of £78,765.17 – a figure that was not incurred dishonestly.
Mr Redman said the revelations proved he and his supporters were right to fight all along. He said: “It is very pleasing to see the report recognises there was no substance to the unfounded criticisms.”