Hitchin Town FC criticise Charity Commission after Cow Commoners case dropped despite law breach

Hitchin Town chief executive Andy Melvin has criticised the Charities Commission for dropping the ca

Hitchin Town chief executive Andy Melvin has criticised the Charities Commission for dropping the case against the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust. - Credit: Archant

Club officials at Hitchin Town FC have criticised a regulatory body for not taking action against the owners of their Top Field home after a law was breached.

The Charity Commission was asked to look into the conduct of the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust – which owns the land at Fishponds Road – by the football club, but has said no further action will be taken ‘mainly’ because the proposed land swap which would have seen a supermarket built on the Top Field site is now dead in the water.

A senior case officer said the Cow Commoners had breached the Charities Act 2011 by not carrying out a full survey about the plans, but that the trustees were “motivated by trying to secure the best interests of the charity”.

A new 25-year lease for the Canaries to remain at the ground has since been agreed.

In response, Hitchin Town chief executive Andy Melvin said: “Despite this damning conclusion, the commission considers that there is no further action warranted because effectively no harm was done.

“In our opinion this is akin to a judge saying to an apprehended bank robber: ‘OK, you didn’t take any money, no harm done, but please don’t do it again!’

“Harm was done as it cost the club in excess of £100,000 in legal fees to protect its position whereas had the trustees followed the law this expense would not have been necessary.”

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A Cow Commoners spokesman said: “The Charity Commission is satisfied that the trustees, in entering into the Stevenage Road option agreement, were motivated by trying to secure the best interests of the charity and has closed the case over the Top Field redevelopment.

“The trustees checked the relevant requirements of the Charities Act 2011 and appointed an independent firm of chartered surveyors to prepare a valuation, but it was clear that a ‘red book valuation’ was not possible as the option agreement was subject to planning consent on both sites.

“It became clear that the citizens of the town did not want the new facilities and so the proposal never reached the planning process.”

•Hitchin Town welcome Premier League Norwich City to Topfield on Tuesday night – visit www.hitchintownfc.co.uk to find out more about the match, which will help mark the club’s 150th anniversary.

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