[Update 26 January. The Blake Society has published in their Webpage an interesting timeline and excerpts of minutes in an attempt to get away with the false information they are giving regarding Blake’s Cottage. I will be very happy to contest some of the statements found there and include the relevant evidence. That will take time and I am extremely busy these days but my comments will be here soon. Keep an eye on this space.]
On 20 January the Blake Society held its AGM.
It started thus: the Secretary, Antony Vinall, passed me by when he was distributing the agenda, so I asked him to give me a copy. We had recently exchanged correspondence in which I made clear that the sole reason why I was renewing my membership was in order to be able to challenge the falsehoods that the Society has been spreading among its members and the public, including their minutes of last year’s AGM.
So he approached me to give me a copy of the agenda and asked me if I was meaning to speak. I asked him what he thought I was there for if not. He asked again, he asked in fact three times. He then asked me, three times again, what was I going to say. I told him he should wait and hear. He then said, sarcastically, that he asked so that he was prepared.
He was, in short, harassing me.
The Chair’s Report
The Chair, Tim Heath, looked a bit nervous to me, stumbling here and there through the narration of what the Society did last year, interwoven with some vacuous sentences that he has been repeating dozens of times in the past years – a sign, I think, of stagnant waters in the BS leadership.
Among these was his claim that the BS was set on working “to do good to the world”.
I ignore how the Chair’s mind works, how much of his own contradictions he actually believes to be true and how much is sheer cynicism. All I know is that such words, coming from someone who does the things he’s doing, are vile.
The Treasurer’s Report
By the time the Treasurer, Luis Garrido, gave his report, it became evident that the AGM had been carefully scripted in an attempt to assuage the concerns I have been raising in this blog, to the press and to the relevant authorities, and that the Charity Commission is investigating. This is comforting: it means that reporting what these people are doing wrong is no wasted time.
The Treasurer, for instance, repeated several times that their accounts report for 2016 had been made by an independent examiner, whom they had actually taken the trouble to invite to the AGM. Mr Garrido explained in a confusing manner that this person was no expert in finances but was fully independent. Then this person read his statement saying that, though his was an “inexpert eye”, everything was to his mind quite OK, and he was, again, independent.
This obeys the fact that I have reported to the Charity Commission, and have also stated in this blog (please read my entry “Inconsistencies in Blake Cottage Trust’s Financial Report” of 18 September) that the “independent examiner” of the 2015 Blake Society financial report is, in fact, Dr Nick Duncan, who up till yesterday, when he seems to have stepped out, was a Trustee of the Society. You can read that document in the following link:
Up to today (21 January 2017), it has been accessible in the “Find a Charity” section of the Charity Commission’s webpage.
For all I know the BS 2016 financial report may be immaculate, but I still want to see an independent report of 2015, a crucial year because that’s when Blake’s Cottage was acquired and when the reports of both the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust are overlapping, inconsistent and with money missing.
Then Mr Garrido went on to say, for no discernible reason, that for the creation of the Blake Cottage Trust the Blake Society has hired the most expensive firm of lawyers in this country, experts in Charities and who, on top of it all, donated a substantial amount to the Cottage appeal. This firm is Bircham Dyson Bell.
They are, indeed, very expensive and very powerful – they have been known for handling, for example, Tony Blair’s fortune -, and the Chair has made sure to wield them as a weapon to intimidate people, including the managing editor of a major national paper.
If this gratuitous mention of BDB was made in order to intimidate me, it was a futile effort, and I find it strange that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust have not realized yet that I am not afraid of their lawyers.
Mr Garrido also said that the Blake Cottage Trust had been set up in March 2015, so I had to correct him with the exact date: October 2014.
I sincerely appreciate that Mr Garrido made sure to highlight my major contribution to the Cottage appeal, explaining how Mr Heath and myself were, within the Blake Society Committee, the only two persons raising funds in 2014. It would have been good though if he had also mentioned the significant role and enormous work of the Big Blake Project in Felpham, who were raising money too on behalf of the Blake Society, and running the local leg of the campaign.
The Secretary’s Report
Mr Vinall’s report was brief and strange. He gave a tortuous explanation as to why, though the membership of the Blake Society had diminished in the past year, it was merely a matter of a defective database that he couldn’t use properly or something along those lines and therefore, though “in paper it would seem as if we have less members, we are in fact growing”.
I assume that behind this bewildering statement is the refusal to acknowledge, perhaps even to themselves, that the Blake Society is losing members because people are starting to hear about their lack of ethics.
Then came the turn of the acceptance of the minutes of last year’s AGM. Knowing from my experience of the last AGM that I would not be allowed to speak much, I was reserving my comments and questions for this moment. I didn’t have much hopes that the Committee would respond to them with truth, but I did hope that, in view of the gravity of the situation they are in, they would at least go through the motions of listening – then the members attending and general public would hear too.
But the Blake Society seems to be quickly losing its grip even on forms, so what happened was in fact a shameful spectacle at the hands of Mr Heath and Mr Vinall, determined not to let me speak.
I said I had issues to raise and the Chair asked me to introduce myself, so I said I had been a Trustee of the Blake Society for four years, its Secretary for two and had been co-leader of the Cottage appeal, just as the Treasurer had ratified. The Chair said that that was not the case, that I had been his “assistant”.
Everybody in the Committee knows the extent of my work, and leadership, in this project. In the documents section of this webpage you can find some documents I prepared that were in fact the only consistent articulation in writing of what we were planning to do. There are many more documents and correspondence that show I was not a mere “assistant”.
However, I want to say here that when in the summer of 2014 the Chair incurred into behaviour so unethical that it jeopardized not only the Cottage appeal but the existence of the Blake Society itself, I told the Committee what was going on and resigned. The Committee was outraged at the Chair’s behaviour; many of them told me so, though they never challenged the Chair. What they all did (and this includes the Chair) was ask me to stay and by so doing, save the reputation of the appeal and the BS. Mr Antony Vinall offered himself as mediator between the Chair and me. I trusted him because he was the only person in the Committee who seemed willing to do anything at all about the problems we were facing, and because he had unequivocally expressed his disapproval of the Chair’s behaviour. I was puzzled though that despite his outrage, he was accepting the impossible terms that the Chair was proposing for us to continue on working together.
There is ample correspondence in which I asked Mr Vinall why the conditions were put on me, when I was the one who was giving the Chair, and the BS as a whole, the chance to put things right, because they all had asked me to do so. It was a cruel time; I was on the verge of breakdown for months, beneath impossible pressure from all this people while the Chair continued on bullying me, so in the end we signed a ridiculous agreement that would only have validity while both the Chair and I were Trustees of the BS, and in which he hinted that I would be that: his “assistant”. With hindsight, I can see now that Mr Vinall should have reported to the rest of the Committee immediately the Chair’s unreasonable behaviour, and that what he did instead was collusion with the bullying and something very close to coercion. The correspondence is available to anyone who may want to see it.
What is clear is that I was no “assistant” in this project. In fact, in the middle of the summer 2014, when time was crucial for us to launch the crowdfunding appeal, the Chair suddenly went away for six whole weeks, to the enormous concern of myself, the Big Blake Project and the rest of the Committee, and left me very much in charge of the appeal as far as the Blake Society is concerned.
But let’s go back to the AGM last 20 January: the Chair pretended to deny that the Blake Cottage Trust was set up by him alone, with his lawyers only standing in for him, in October 2014. So again, if you go to the Charity Commission’s webpage, you will see that the BCT’s Governing Document Memorandum and Articles were incorporated on 30 October 2014, precisely, as I reminded the Chair, at the time when his probity was being severely questioned within the Committee. He did this without informing the Committee or those of us running the campaign with him. This is unequivocally the first step to set up the Trust, something that Mr Heath did with his solicitor alone; that the Charity was actually registered until March 2015 doesn’t mean in any way that the beginning of the procedures were not started in October 2014, as anyone can see in the Charity Commission’s documents and other webpages with information about Charities. You can read that governing document created by Mr Heath alone, secretly, and which includes a provision of pensions for the men who have appropriated Blake’s Cottage, in the following link:
This is the BCT’s Certificate of Incorportion, of public domain:
Mr Heath admonished me at the AGM saying that “truth is important”, while he was denying his own actions recorded in the document above. How can someone invoke truth in the same breath of his lies is simply beyond me.
(For a clearer timeline, please visit The Companies House webpage, https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09288779/filing-history. )
Then he asked me if I had a question and I said that at the AGM last year I was not allowed to cast a vote and that because of their haste to silence me, technically there had been, in fact, no election of a Committee as there had been no voting. Mr Vinall said it was not necessary because the nominees did not exceed the number of Trustees that could sit at the Committee. I reminded him that the AGM is the chance members of the Society have to raise concerns about the performance of a Trustee and Mr Vinall changed the subject asking me if I said he lied in the minutes. I said yes, that he was a liar. He asked me to tell him where he was lying and as soon as I started speaking Mr Heath interrupted me saying, rather aggressively, “Do you have a question?”. I started talking again and he tried to distract me by asking what item of the minutes I was referring to. I said that the item about the election of Trustees, and he interrupted me again.
I got up, said that if they wouldn’t let me talk I would not be part of the farce, would leave and report them to the corresponding authorities. Mr Heath continued: “Do you have a question?”. So I tried again, tried to ask why are the minutes and the Blake Society’s webpage lying regarding who were the “elected” Trustees at the last AGM, why do they mention in their webpage Dr Duncan who was not a nominee and was co-opted later (as he told me himself by email) or why don’t they mention Rod Tweedy, who left the Committee after the AGM, unhappy about the handling of the Cottage campaign.
But at this point the Chair was simply shouting on top of me every time I started talking. It must have been at least five times that he asked “Do you have a question?”, that I tried, precisely, to ask my question and told him that he was not letting me speak, and he just repeated the same words again. Plain and rather vicious bullying, of the kind that I was subject to when working in the Cottage appeal.
The only way to be heard was to shout on top of his shouting. So I did: I told him that he was a liar, and a bully, and had stolen a public project. I told the Committee that I would report what has happening to the pertinent authorities and they would regret behaving like bullies, told them that they were cowards, and left. Outside the room there was a queue for the concert that would follow the AGM and I told them too that the people in there were bullies and liars. The Committee must have heard me because they immediately started letting people in, so I guess they finished the AGM with the same haste, if not more, than they did last year when I also spoke out.
The comments and questions regarding the minutes that I was never allowed to ask can be found in the following document:
A screenshot of the Blake Society’s webpage lying about the elected Trustees at the AGM of January 2016, the way their page looked until last 20 January, can be seen below:
Why are they doing this?
I do not know why the BS Committee has been colluding with the Chair like this, or why Mr Vinall and Mr Garrido lent themselves to the AGM’s sad spectacle.
Mr Garrido has been a Trustee of the BS for many years and has often had problems with the Chair, as he repeatedly told me on the phone. When the problems with the Cottage appeal started in 2014 he told me several times that what the Chair was doing was outrageous. There is an email of him addressed to the whole Committee a few years before the Cottage appeal in which he suggests the Chair is something of a dictator. A few days before last year’s AGM (2016) we had a phone conversation. He agreed again with me on all my concerns regarding what was happening with the Cottage and the Chair’s unethical behaviour, that included another Trustee, and told me, literally, that the Chair was a tyrant. I asked him why then did they put up with it. His answer was: “Because that is the way things are in the Blake Society and it’s never going to change. Either you do as he says, or if you don’t like it, you leave”.
As for Mr Vinall, as I have said before, he was very angry, and very worried, about what the Chair was doing. I met up with him and his wife, the also Trustee Christina Vinall, several times, both during the big crisis when I was still the Secretary and afterwards, when the Cottage was purchased and I found out that the Chair had created his own illegitimate Trust and bullied out the Big Blake Project, and how angry people were in Felpham. Mr and Mrs Vinall told me that since I had left the Committee they had had very few meetings and that it had been impossible to elicit information from the Chair about what was going on with the Cottage (which was, let us not forget, a Blake Society project). When it was finally purchased, Mrs Vinall only found out through the members newsletter, and the then Secretary, Mr Tweedy, through Facebook. Mr Vinall told me that the whole Committee was very frustrated by the Chair’s unwillingness to be transparent or communicate, and repeated what he had said before, that the Chair liked “to play games”. Mr Vinall had also told me very clearly several times that what happened in 2014 had set a precedent and that if the Chair acted unethically again, the Committee would take action. When I left the Committee I left with the Vinalls and Mr Tweedy several documents with evidence of what had gone wrong.
When I met with Mr and Mrs Vinall in 2015 they knew that Mr Tweedy wanted to step down as Secretary. Mrs Vinall asked me whether if it was very hard work, wondering whether if she should nominate herself, and Mr Vinall asked her if she hadn’t had enough with seeing what a horror it had been both for me and Mr Tweedy.
Next thing I knew, he was the new Secretary, and he has not stopped lying since.
I don’t know what these Trustees think is in there for them in order to collude like this. I do know, though, that they are afraid. But this is not the way to protect themselves. They are only making things worse for themselves, and for the Charity they are supposed to serve.
I know that I do not deserve this treatment from a Society that I served impeccably, with great commitment, passion, good will and inexhaustible efforts at conciliation of conflicts, as all the Trustees, the Chair included, have repeatedly acknowledged.
Apologizing for the harm done is an option that is always there. That would be the beginning of a solution. It is possible; then dialogue can ensue, and it’s not the end of the world.
I came out of the AGM at Waterstones Piccadilly understandably distressed. Outside I met Rachel Searle, from the Big Blake Project, who was just arriving since her train was delayed. I told her what had happened and, realizing there was not much to be done with people who bully others into silence, we left.
At that moment precisely, the “anti Trump” march was walking down Piccadilly, since 20 January was also the fateful day in which that man was inaugurated as the president of the United States.
It was an odd experience. It felt in a way rather grim, a kind of confirmation that we’re living in a time of bullies. But there was also a hopeful element in it: to be reminded that there are always people willing to stand up to them.