How Four New Trustees Are Destroying our Community:
As of 16 February 2024, seven resident workers at Monkton Wyld Court community have been ordered to leave by trustees appointed in January 2023; four long term volunteers aspiring to become members have resigned, disillusioned; one trustee has been forced to resign and two others have resigned voluntarily.
Meanwhile Stephen Williams, the volunteer whose complaints triggered the dispute is installed as the Trustee’s de facto agent, with sole access to the community’s office and computers. Here is how it happened –
27 March 2023 A volunteer, Stephen Williams, applies to the Monkton Wyld Community for permanent residency after a six month trial period in the maintenance/ handyman role. To be accepted as a full member, an applicant has to win full consensus agreement of the whole community (otherwise pre-existing discord can be cemented into the community). Several people feel unsure of his suitability (because of a quick temper, and a tendency to be pushy) so his trial period is extended for another three months.
28 March The community receives an email from the trustees saying only that “issues have been raised and must be investigated by the trustees”. A long email correspondence follows over the next ten days in which the trustees drip feed us information: that the matter involves “contracts and behaviour” (29 March); that it is a workplace complaint (5 April); that the complaints are of bullying and harassment against Simon and Gill (12 April). Eventually, after pretending otherwise for two weeks, SW acknowledges what many suspect, that he is the source of the complaints.
12 April Kelly Marsden launches an investigation into these complaints without revealing to us what they consist of despite repeated requests from us to see them. Marsden claims that they are “whistleblowing complaints” (even though grievances over matters such as bullying are not normally regarded as whistleblowing) and we therefore have no right to see what we are charged with. Gill and Simon can therefore cannot respond to any of the evidence.
14 April Gill and Simon ask another member of the community to ask SW to inform us through a third party what his complaints are, as indeed he should have done under our normal community procedures and the terms of his volunteer contract. SW refuses and when Gill and Simon bump into him and ask him directly, the conversation rapidly becomes heated. We accuse him of disregarding the terms of his agreement, and he claims we are “Lord and Lady of the Manor”.
16 April As a result of this altercation, SW enters another complaint against Gill and Simon, claiming that he fears for his safety (he is in his forties, Gill and Simon are in our seventies). We receive an emailed warning from the trustees that if we ask him again we will be “asked to leave”.
20 April Kelly Marsden sends us an email accusing Gill and Simon of “blackmail” and stating, without citing a shred of evidence, “you both seem to have developed considerable influence over the community whereby others are brought around to agreeing with what you want through pressure and intimidation”.
26 April The trustees finally allow us to see a copy of SW’s letter of complaint. In the same email they send Kelly Marsden’s completed report, which entirely endorses SW’s complaints; and a summons to attend a disciplinary hearing on 2 May. The report provides no concrete evidence in support of SW’s allegations. The charge of bullying relies substantially on the events of 14 April, which occurred after SW submitted his letter of complaint; and also on the fact that Gill and Simon objected to the kangaroo court procedure, which we have every right to do. She also repeats the charges that our “overbearing influence” serves to “maintain control over community decision-making” without citing a single community decision that could be said to have been forced through in this manner; or mentioning the fact that Gill never attends meetings. The evidence also relies on non-specific, undocumented allegations from four witnesses (out of a total of eleven). Since we do not know who these witnesses are, or what they said, we have no way of challenging their evidence, nor of assessing whether their evidence has been, twisted, cherry-picked or influenced by leading questions. None of this anonymous evidence would stand up in a court of law.
28 April Gill and Simon make a formal complaint against SW: that he failed to follow the complaints procedure laid down in his contract; and that he had applied for permanent membership of the community on false pretenses, since he concealed from the community the fact that he had a week earlier submitted to the trustees a raft of complaints against community members, one of the trustees and the community as a whole. Our complaint is summarily dismissed by the trustees.
2 May Gill and Simon face a disciplinary committee. I provide a 12 page rebuttal of SW’s complaints and Kelly Marsden’s report, along with a comprehensive rebuttal of her report by community member Jared Hills. I also provided testimonies from all eight of the people who have assisted me on the farm over the last eight years. These are the people whom I have spent most time working with, yet none of them were invited to give evidence by Kelly Marsden, who has never visited Monkton nor met with any of the people concerned face-to-face.
3 May XXX XXX MBE, who has been a trustee for 15 years is subjected to a grilling on Zoom by all the other trustees, five out of six of whom have been trustees for only 4 months. In her words she is “coerced into resigning”.
8 May Jasmine Hills, a community member who runs the garden makes a formal complaint, first to the community and then to the trustees against SW’s aggressive behaviour towards her. The complaint is ignored by the trustees.
9 May Gill and Simon are informed of the outcome of the disciplinary inquiry: we are told we have to leave Monkton Wyld Court as soon as possible, and in any case within six months. No mention is made of the evidence Gill and Simon submitted, nor of the substantial testimony that we submitted in our favour from other people we have worked and lived with here.
10 May Asked in person why the trustees are pursuing this approach, one of the new trustees states “it is time for a change”.
11 May Student cinematographers, currently filming at Monkton Wyld as part of its educational remit, are forbidden by the trustees to film on site and ordered to destroy all footage. The trustees also phone the student’s college saying that they will call the police if filming continues. The college tells the students not to film. Oh dear, what sort of advice is that for budding investigative journalists?
16 May Jasmine Hills makes a further complaint against SW’s aggressive behaviour towards her. This is again ignored by the trustees.
18 May We are informed that two members of the Board of Trustees have resigned, leaving only four out of the original seven.
20 May Jasmine Hills is informed that she has to leave Monkton Wyld Court “with immediate effect”. This is because she “instigated” a meeting to review SW’s position in the community. The meeting (which has not been held yet) has to happen in June anyway , and most members of the community wish to bring it forward since there is no conceivable prospect of SW will be accepted into the community.
21 May Simon is told by the trustees that he is barred from his kitchen, dining room, toilets, bathroom and all other shared areas of the community household. He is also banned from attending community meetings. “Formal action will be taken” if he does not abide by these restrictions.
23 May Five community members and three long-term volunteers (eight out of eleven people altogether) sign a motion of no-confidence in the trustees.
30 May Simon and Gill are “invited” to an appeal on 5 July. Even though it involves eviction from our home of 13 years, it is just 45 minutes long, and on Zoom (which neither of us do). We have no right to bring a lawyer, call witnesses, or question those who have given evidence against us. The adjudicating panel consists of an HR expert and LG, the trustee who has been spearheading the campaign against us, in other words the prosecutor is judge and jury. Simon and Gill refuse to attend on the grounds that it is a stitch-up
5 June The “Appeal Outcome” is delivered. Gill and Simon are given notice “that you are no longer a community member of Monkton Wyld Court with immediate effect. This means that you are asked not to . . .(among other things) participate in any community activity, including attending meetings and work activities . . . communicate verbally or in writing with community members, visitors, service users, service providers, students, clients or associates on any matter connected with Monkton Wyld Court. . . etc”
11 June Fantastic response from members of the public at this years Scythe Fair in Somerset. 284 people signed our petition, with 41 pages of comments from just a few hours in the afternoon. Thank you to everyone who signed for your support – it means a great deal.
14 June The trustees order Jasmine to stop working in the garden, saying that there should be a “lapse” in activity there until further notice.
15 June Our solicitor, who has 26 years experience in employment law drafts a letter on behalf of Simon to the trustees informing them that “All legal cases involving PIDA and the government and ACAS guidance on PIDA are clear that internal complaints of the nature raised by SW, are not ‘disclosures’ and should be dealt with using internal grievance procedures.. The non-justified use of PIDA has been relied upon by the Trustees as an excuse to override and ignore the clear process that is set out in the Community Staff Handbook for dealing with internal grievances and conflict resolution and disciplinary matters.” There has so far been no response to this letter from the trustees.
19-23 June Since the main housekeeper is on strike, and both office workers are threatening resignation, the trustees bring in a certain fellow to work in the house and the office This person has worked here before, but was found to be a heavy drinker and liar who was witnessed stealing from our pub, and who made unwanted advances to women. The community is unanimous in not wanting him back, and three people informed the trustees of this fact. The trustees ignored these pleas, and drafted him in as blackleg labour. When the community presented documentary evidence of his unreliability, the trustees responded: “We have concluded that there is no substance to your claims. You are not in full possession of the facts.” The trustees have never even met the fellow, while we all lived with him for several months.
21 June SW embarks on a programme of trying to harass the members and residents of the community. He confiscates the communal car key, turns off the water in the garden, and brings in a lawnmower to replace the scythes which we have used for over 12 years to mow the lawns. Our groundsman hides the lawnmower, and the SW calls the police to report that it is stolen.
27 June As SW has completed his extended probationary period of 3 months, full members of the Community review his performance. They decide that he is not a suitable person to be living here and give him four weeks notice to leave. Five members wish him to leave, and one abstains. Three other long term volunteers support this decision. SW is informed by letter.
28 June The trustees demand £25,900 in outstanding rent from Simon, even though the value of the milk, cheese and yoghurt he has supplied’ plus improvements to the infrastructure well exceeds the value of the rent. They threaten court action if it is not paid immediately. Simon responds “sue and be damned”.
28 June The trustees charge Simon with £25,920 rent arrears (including statutory interest of 8 per cent) without bothering to ask to see his accounts, later still not having viewed his accounts – “.. if you do not make immediate payment of the arrears. Our next step will be to apply to the court and pursue the claim for rent arrears, which will inevitably incur additional costs for you..”. In fact Monkton Wyld Court owes Simon over £10,000 for improvements in the event that he leaves the premises, and there is abundant documented evidence to support this.
4 July With the resignation of two office workers, and the main housekeeper on strike, LG the London based trustee who is the architect of the coup comes down to help fill these roles for a few days. She also brings down her daughter as a “ volunteer” and immediately gives her the freedom to enter our office from which we ourselves are now barred. Entry to the office would never normally be granted to a volunteer who had only worked here one day. There would appear to be a conflict of interest here.
5 July An ad hoc group of community members, long term volunteers and three former trustees decide to call a public meeting. Its main purpose would be to form an association of “Friends of Monkton Wyld Court” whose objective would be to advise the trustees and help safeguard the welfare of the charity.
11 July On returning home from holiday, office worker JL is told by the trustees to leave the premises forthwith, and without pay. Meanwhile the office sits unstaffed.
30 July Kelly Marsden’s report relied on evidence gathered from interviews with other witnesses who were either existing or former members of the community. Fairlie and Barron were not allowed to see transcripts of these interviews and the names of the witnesses were redacted. However the redaction was not carried out thoroughly, and when the blacked out text of Marsden’s report was transposed from a pdf into a layout programme, the names re-appeared. Fairlie was thus able to interview all these witnesses. He discovered that what Kelly Marsden claimed the witnesses said about Fairlie in their interviews was very different from what the witnesses themselves claimed they had told her. Some of Marsden’s conclusions appear to be little short of blatant lies.
Simon’s investigation into Kelly Marsden’s HR report published (DOWNLOAD HERE)
6 August Information on our ‘Resistance Festival’ published
7 August The trustees inform us that they have dissolved the Wyld Workers Co-op LLP, which is the body through which the Community holds a contract with the Trustees to manage the property. This is nonsense, since they have no power to dissolve the Co-op which remains active on the Companies House website.
19 August Trustees contact some of our Resistance Festival tutors in an intimidatory manner – saying that their actions by attending the event would be ‘unlawful and could be construed as a criminal act’, because they have taken Simon’s name off the entertainments licence, and cancelled the pub licence. We phone up Dorset Council who tell us that what we plan to do does not require a licence.
Mid August Sophie P, the housekeeper, resigns and leaves. Xanthe P, a long term volunteer, takes over.
26 August Resistance Festival begins and the whole event runs smoothly and is a fantastic success under difficult conditions and with no support from the Trustees, only their attempts to prevent and derail the event
3 September Resistance Festival comes to a fitting finale with beautiful music and fun for all
6 September We learn in an email from the Co-op’s accountant that earlier in the year she was approached by a former community and co-op member, who had resigned from the co-op, but whose name had not yet been removed from the register at Companies House. He informed her that the Trustees had asked him to tell her to dissolve the worker’s co-operative. The accountant pointed out to him that she had no power to do this, since it had to be done by a General Meeting of the Partnership.
13 September Jared Hills, Groundskeeper and Community Member, is fired by Trustees by way of a legal letter from Foster and Coleman, for ‘gross misconduct’.
Legal letters also sent to Jasmine Hills, Head Gardiner, and Jon Hill, farm assistant, for the purposes of eviction. The three individuals each contested the orders with several clear reasons.
14 September Someone gets access to the Company’s House website and lists Jared and Jasmine Hills as having resigned from the Wyld Workers Coop, on 31 August, even though they did no such thing. They also reinstate as members a couple who recently resigned and who made it clear to the trustees that they did not want to be reinstated as Coop members. We are currently trying to find out who made these unauthorised changes to the list, which contravene the rules of the Co-op concerning the admission and resignation of members. The Co-op’s accountant, who has the password for altering the listings, refuses to divulge who authorised her to make the change.
11 October Jared, Jasmine and Jon, each receive replies from their responses to the Trustees solicitors, Foster and Coleman. They are all given a week to leave MWC, or there shall be a claim issued in the County Court, under CPR 55, to evict these 3 people as trespassers. All three of these individuals respond, with their clear reasoning why they see these eviction orders as invalid.
11 October Without any warning or consultation, Trustees change the Charity’s Articles of Association on the Company House website. They take the Articles of a London-based Community Interest Company called Public Voice CIC, make a few small changes, and paste it in to replace the previous Articles. Funnily enough, one of the Directors of Public Voice is Laura Guest who is also the main Trustee driving all the changes at Monkton Wyld Court.
Among other things, there are changes to the objects of the Charity, which for many years have been to promote education in sustainability and to maintain the listed buildings. Now the Charity’s objects include the promotion of “commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession, and to promote any social, political or sporting activity and anything incidental or conducive to the above objects”. Just about anything in fact. There are also changes making it easier to pay Trustees for their services and to sell off the charity to something other than another charity. A complaint to the Charity Commission has been made by former Trustees and community members.
13 October Jon Hill receives a letter from the Trustees, via Foster and Coleman, ordering a caravan to be removed from MWC. They give under three days for this to be done, threatening to send in Bailiffs if not. They add that they shall seek full costs from Jon via the courts.
17 October Jasmine and Jared both receive responses to their letters from Foster and Coleman, saying that they have no authority to remain at MWC. Foster and Coleman continue by saying they shall be issuing the Trustees claim in the county court to evict Jared and Jasmine as trespassers under CPR 55 without further notice.
19 October Bailiffs arrive on the farm at MWC, to issue notice on the caravan.
25 October The Trustees announce they are expropriating the Community’s shared car. The Trustees have never driven this vehicle nor have they paid a penny towards its upkeep. Unfortunately, the name of the logbook, dating from the days when there was no dispute between the charity and the community, is Monkton Wyld School, meaning that the Trustees can mask what is basically theft as “claiming ownership”. This mirrors exactly the way the Trustees have expropriated the entire charity and its community.
28 October Since the Charity is now too understaffed to harvest apples and make juice as usual, expelled members of the community have undertaken the job, washing up the empty bottles and pressing apples from a neighbouring orchard. Whereupon the Trustees write to Jon Hill demanding £600 in payment for the bottles. Actually the bottles are worth £340 and Jon has already arranged with the kitchen to offset this against money owed to him and Jared for supply of batteries to the charity, and back pay. Although this is explained to the Trustees, they nevertheless call in the police who as of 7 November are conducting an investigation.
5 November A comprehensive complaint is delivered to the Charity Commission signed by the six expelled residents and supported by five former Trustees. The complaint, which is 22,000 words long, plus 45 appendices, includes an account of what has taken place over the last seven months, and explanation of how this has harmed the charity. Watch this space.
11 November Xanthe P, who worked hard to look after the house after Sophie resigned in August, is ordered to leave by the the Trustees. Xanthe made a huge effort to try to mediate the dispute. Nevertheless, the Trustees fired her because “your support for people on site, who are actively causing harm to the Monkton Wyld Charity, is causing even more tension and disruption. You appear to share their attitude of hostility towards Stephen Williams.”
14 November Nine days after receiving the complaint, the Charity Commission informs us that they are not going to do anything. On 20 November they confirm this in an email, stating only that “we must advise that they are not matters that we can become involved in”. In response to our appeal against this verdict, they responded on 5 December : “we are not able to become involved in matters that relate to trustee decision making, where trustees are acting within their powers in the administration of a charity.”
23 November Police arrive at Monkton Wyld Court and arrest Simon Fairlie for “stealing” the community car. For nearly 14 years this car (originally a Peugeot and now a Honda 4WD) has been shared by members of the Community. Among other things it is necessary for servicing the farm. Simon is currently the main driver and has paid over £1500 in the last 30 months to maintain the vehicle. However the log book states that the registered keeper is Monkton Wyld School, and on this basis the Trustees managed to convince the Police that they are the owners — even though they have never used the car, nor spent a penny on its maintenance. Simon was held for 9 hours and then released on bail without charge.
1 December Environmental Health Officers arrive on site and tell us that we can no longer sell dairy produce to anyone, or give it away, until we obtain “approval”. We are therefore feeding it to our pigs. This is because we are no longer supplying Monkton Wyld Court and as a result the subsistence status that we formerly enjoyed no longer applies, and we enter into a new regulatory regime. We are currently applying for approval.
8 December Trustees order a locksmith to attend to install locks on some areas of The Court. A security guard is also hired for the day by the Trustees. Both individuals say they cannot proceed in this action as it is a civil matter, without the authorisation of the courts. The locksmith duly leaves the premises.
Later, Stephen Williams and a Trustee begin removing our campaign signs and banner and damaging them, watched by the security guard. The police are called and ultimately they recover the signs and banner. The incident is currently under police investigation.
4 – 5 January 2024 Massive support from attendees at the Oxford Real Farming Conference –
7 February The police inform us that they are going to charge Simon Fairlie with taking a vehicle without consent, under Section 12 of the Theft Act. Fairlie responds to the police “I find this very odd since I am part owner and main driver of the community car, I am currently responsible for its maintenance and I have recently paid over £500 to keep it on the road. Meanwhile the trustees who have made this accusation have no use for the vehicle. Their only motive is harassment. The vehicle has remained standing in the same place since before Christmas. With all due respect, I would have thought this dispute was a civil matter.”
10 February Malcolm Ramsay, an independent jurist, submits a further reasoned request to the Charity Commission to review their original decision. In it he notes that in an earlier communication he had asked the Commission’s case officer “if she recognised that trustees taking a decision for improper reasons constituted misconduct; her response was that, unless a decision was outside the trustees’ powers, the Commission could not intervene. I would expect the courts to find such a narrow definition of misconduct totally unacceptable . . . No reasons were provided explaining why the trustees’ behaviour – which would not be considered acceptable in any other sphere – was considered a legitimate exercise of their powers.”
16 February The trustees write to Jasmine telling her she will be reported to the police for theft if she sells any of the vegetables she has grown in the walled garden. They also write to Simon saying “clearly, the milk from two cows is far in excess of the dairy required for your personal use, or for swill for pigs. Will you please therefore inform us of your plans to stop dairy production, and removing the cows from our site.”
SOME SELECTED QUOTES FROM OUR PETITION:
<< Given the history of the Community and all that it has stood for, and achieved in so many ways, this new direction is absolutely appalling. Long term community members should not be treated this badly >> Hugh & Patsy Chapman.
<< Monkton Wyld is a beacon and demonstration of great communal land use. Support these eco people! >> Hannah Padgett
<<Monkton Wyld has been a shining light in forward thinking and Simon Fairlie and Gill Barron have been leading lights in this. I have known them both for many years and cannot believe these ridiculous accusations. >> Peter Kafno.
<< This is a disgrace. We stay here in the summer and these are lovely people.>> Andrew Danford
<< To evict the people who have created and continue to live the way we should all aspire to seems crazy. >> Susi Stump.
<< There are no words for how utterly ridiculous this is >>. Ruth Pullan
,<< Simon and Gill have had a huge positive impact on sustainable agriculture, losing them from Monkton will be a loss for everyone>> Pedro Brace
<< After a really unstable time in the first decade after 2000, Monkton Wyld has thrived and become a valuable venue for courses conferences and holidays. The microdairy & home-grown veg have been key to this and Simon, Gill and Jasmine have made a massive contribution to this. Please don’t cause the demise of this valuable community .. >> Rebecca Laughton.
<< Simon and Gill are amazing contributors to land politics and justice. I support them staying in their home and place they helped to build up. >> Sophia Lysaczenko
<<What kind of scam is this? Outrageous.>> David Gordon.
<< The model of living as established by Simon and Gill at Monkton Wyld Court is one of the few things that give me hope. Devastated to hear it may be coming to and end. >> Richard Stump