Former Haringey leader Adje suspended over Palace fiasco

THE former leader of Haringey Council has been suspended for four months for bringing the council into disrepute during the doomed sale of Alexandra Palace – a debacle that cost taxpayers around �2million.

Cllr Charles Adje, then chairman of the Alexandra Palace and Park Board, has been suspended by Haringey’s standards committee for not telling his fellow trustees about a four-page briefing document written by general manager Keith Holder in April 2007.

At that time the council was attempting to sell Ally Pally to controversial development company Firoka, whose owner Firoz Kassam was becoming impatient while the council waited for the Charity Commission to give the deal the green light.

After a meeting between Firoka, Cllr Adje and Mr Holder, Cllr Adje asked the general manager to compile a report to help him evaluate the situation. Mr Holder’s resulting report highlighted the risk involved in responding to any threat by Firoka to pull out of the deal.

It was alleged that Cllr Adje then met with council leader George Meehan and the chief executive to discuss the report. Mr Holder claims he was then told his report was not helpful and was pressurised into a U-turn. He agreed to change his position because he believed Cllr Adje had the backing of senior officers and politicians, something he now does not believe to have been the case.

At the meeting of trustees a week later, his report was not even mentioned and instead Mr Holder tabled a motion suggesting that the transfer of the business and staff should begin immediately. Firoka then received a much more favourable licence than the one originally drafted in 2002.

The new deal handed the developer control of the ice rink, which brings in around �700,000 a year, and left the council paying the salaries of staff who had been seconded to Firoka. The arrangement was supposed to last for three months but it continued until the end of 2007, costing the council millions.

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The investigation was launched after Stroud Green resident Clive Carter, an outspoken critic of the way Alexandra Palace has been managed by the council, complained that Cllr Adje had broken five elements of the code of conduct.

Independent investigator Mr Martin Walklate told the council he could only find sufficient evidence for one breach of the code – not tabling the briefing report.

However, the council’s standards committee, comprised of two councillors and three independent members, also decided to investigate the allegation of putting undue pressure on Mr Holder.

Appearing at last week’s hearing on behalf of Mr Walklate, Mr Terence Michison of Haringey’s legal services team, said: “It was of the greatest importance that the trustees had the fullest information.”

He added: “As a consequence of matters following on from the actions of the chair and the decision of the board, entering into a licence opened the door to matters which caused serious and legitimate public concern.”

Cllr Adje represented himself and questioned Mr Holder about the undue pressure allegation.

Mr Holder replied: “The pressure stemmed from the alleged discussion with senior politicians and officers... you [Cllr Adje] made it quite clear the senior politicians wanted Firoka on board and the hard work that had taken place to find a strategic solution was not to be jeopardised and it should not fall on your or George’s watch.”

Cllr Adje disputed this and said Mr Holder had simply changed his mind. He claimed Mr Holder advised him to bury the report to prevent it from being leaked to the press.

Mr Holder also refuted allegations he had simply changed his mind saying: “It’s preposterous to suggest I was doing this on my own initiative. This was a clear instruction that came down from the political machinery.”

The standards panel found that Cllr Adje had broken one part of the councillors’ code of conduct by burying the note, but said there was insufficient evidence to support a charge that he had broken a further clause by putting pressure on Mr Holder to conceal his report and table the motion calling for the deal to go through.

Cllr Adje’s suspension means he cannot attend council meetings, be involved in decisions or use any council resources, and he has also been suspended by his own party from their Labour group.