Legal costs rocket in Hickling hall dispute

General view of Hickling Barn.
Picture: James Bass

General view of Hickling Barn. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

The trustees of Hickling Barn are likely to have chalked up more than £100,000 in legal fees by the time their dispute with the parish council has been settled at court, it has emerged.

The escalating cost of the row, which has split the Broadland village, was revealed at the annual meeting of the charity which runs the Barn, Hickling's state-of-the-art hall which opened nearly two years ago.

The meeting was told that £44,000 had been spent on legal fees in the last financial year and a further £60,000 was projected by the end of the trial, due to take place early in the new year.

The hall trustees are suing the council for nearly £120,000 which it says it owes them towards the building costs; the council is counter-suing for the return of a sum of about £200,000 already paid to the charity.

The legal costs incurred so far in the dispute, which centres on the contract between the parties agreed at a time when nearly all the councillors were also trustees, saw the parish precept rise this year from £33 to £148 for a band G property.

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A motion was passed at the meeting calling on the parish council to pay over the disputed amount. A further motion was agreed that, subject to Charity Commission approval, the Phoenix Trust, a charity controlling funds from the sale of the previous village hall, should lend money to the Barn so it can complete payment to the builder.

Following the meeting, parish council chairman Sandra Clarke questioned why the trustees' legal fees were so high.

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She said: 'Up to the end of the financial year, the council's legal fees stood at £12,775 plus VAT.'

Mrs Clarke said the council had made two offers to settle the dispute and said it seemed strange the trustees were prepared to spend nearly as much in legal fees as the disputed amount.

However, a trustees' spokesman insisted it was they who had tried to resolve the issue through negotiation and mediation.

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