Council loses pier appeal case

Hastings Pier shortly after the devastating fire of October 2010
Hastings Pier shortly after the devastating fire of October 2010

THREE top law lords have today ruled Hastings Borough Council must pay compensation for closing the pier in the summer of 2006.

The authority had appealed against an original ruling by Mr Justice Ramsey that it was responsible under the 1984 Building Act.

The pier was closed between June and September 2006.

Three of the country’s most senior judges at London’s Court of Appeal today ruled Mr Justice Ramsey had made a correct decision.

The council had hoped the court would allow its appeal and thwart a compensation claim from Manolete Partners plc, which acquired the right to sue from Stylus Sports Ltd, former tenant and operator of a bingo hall and amusement arcade on the Pier.

Stylus went into liquidation in 2012.

Taxpayers money running into tens of thousands of pounds may now have to be spent on settling the case.

Council spokesman Kevin Boorman said: “Hastings Borough Council is bitterly disappointed that it has lost its Court of Appeal case concerning the closure of Hastings Pier.

“The council is considering its position regarding a further appeal but, as it stands, it will be required to pay compensation to Manolete Partners PLC, an Amersham-based company who bought the Stylus’ Sports claim against the Council. “Stylus Sports were the operator of the bingo hall and amusement arcade on the pier who went into liquidation in late 2011.

“The council used emergency powers to close the pier in June 2006 after the pier owners, Ravenclaw, failed to carry out safety work required by the council. Ravenclaw, a Panamanian-registered company, effectively disappeared from the scene, and did no further work on the pier and failed to respond to any correspondence. As the Appeal Court noted in their judgement, ‘the true culprit, Ravenclaw, is outside the jurisdiction and effectively beyond the reach of any enforcement procedures. The court is faced with the familiar problem of deciding which of the surviving partners should bear the loss caused by the culprit.’

The council believes it was absolutely right to close the pier when it did in June 2006. Ravenclaw had failed to carry out essential safety work, pieces of metal had fallen from the underside of the pier, and Ravenclaw failed to comply with the notice served on it by the council requiring it to undertake a survey of the pier structure.

The council therefore commissioned a report from Gifford, a firm of independent structural engineers, which identified a number of serious structural defects and indicated that the pier may no longer be safe for public use. Indeed, the engineer said that it would be unsafe to subject parts of the pier to ‘crowd loadings’.

A large event - a disco - was due to take place in the pier ballroom just days after the council received this report, which around 500 mainly young people were expected to attend. The council asked the pier management, and Ravenclaw, to close the pier to the public, but the pier management and Ravenclaw declined to do so.

The council felt it had no alternative other than to use its emergency powers to close the pier, and did so on Friday 16th June 2006, the day before the disco was due to take place.

Hastings magistrates made an order prohibiting public access to most of the pier in September 2006, effectively ratifying the council’s decision, and this was subsequently upheld on appeal.

The council is therefore disappointed that it is now facing a compensation claim, and having to pay legal costs, when all it has ever sought to do was ensure that the pier was safe for members of the public. It simply could not have allowed the disco to go ahead in June 2006 knowing that pieces of the underside had fallen off, that parts of the pier’s structure were in a dangerous condition, and that an independent engineer had said that parts of the pier were likely to be unsafe under ‘crowd loadings’.”