No mallard for the unveiling, but there’s good news

veiledWith the unveiling of Sir Nigel Gresley’s statue today (5th April) at 11am, without the mallard, this seems an appropriate time to thank supporters for their interest and support in the campaign to ‘save Gresley’s duck.’

Whilst it’s not the statue we all hoped for, we understand Gresley Society members are at last to be asked for their views on the mallard, and so there is a chance it could yet be installed alongside Sir Nigel at a later stage.

This would not have happened without our calls for a change of heart in the Gresley Society trustees. We are hopeful too that some new, pro-mallard, trustees will shortly be co-opted onto the Society’s ruling Council, albeit some 4 months after the AGM when their nominations were inexplicably rejected.

As soon as the details of the consultation of members are announced formally, I propose to close the petition and present it to Council to inform their deliberations.

n2 duck 3The bronze Sir Nigel Gresley is now in place on the Western Concourse at Kings Cross (photo by Robin Simpson), under wraps and awaiting the arrival of the Society’s locomotive Class N2 No.1744 in light steam (pictured) at Platform 8, accompanied by Gresley Restaurant Carriage No.7960.

Doubtless this is a fine sculpture, and I am sure we would all wish to congratulate the sculptor, Hazel Reeves, on her achievement, and hope the day is a fitting celebration of her work, and of course, of the great man, Sir Nigel Gresley himself.


Charity Commission duck action over foul play

Campaigners involved in a controversial statue of Sir Nigel Gresley – due to be unveiled at King’s Cross station on Tuesday 5th – have been angered by the Charity Commission’s decision not to sanction trustees of the Gresley Society, who the campaigners say have lied, acted illegally and taken money under false pretences.

statue appeal ad

This image of the statue – with mallard – featured on the Gresley Society website’s fundraising page for 3 months AFTER the trustees decided to remove the mallard

The row over the statue began a year ago when the trustees removed a mallard duck from the planned statue of the railway engineer – because Gresley’s grandsons said it was ‘demeaning’. But by this point, the Gresley Society was three months into a fundraising appeal for the £95k statue (including duck), and the decision prompted a furore with three trustees resigning in protest and the start of an online petition.

The remaining trustees have refused to reconsider their decision, however, despite support for the petition (over 3,200 signatures) and many eminent people, including two Gresley Society Vice Presidents (Sir William McAlpine and Lord Lindsay) speaking out in favour of the mallard’s inclusion.

Leading campaigner Libby Ranzetta said:

“The Gresley Society trustees have gone to extraordinary lengths to defend their decision to remove the mallard from the statue, including breaking the law. It is disappointing that the Charity Commission doesn’t view this behaviour as sufficiently serious or damaging to the reputation of charities to take action. It makes you wonder how bad a charity would need to be before they were interested.”

Gresley Society member Ron Vale said:

“The Charity Commission tell us the issues raised in the complaint should be resolved within the charity – but members have been lied to, prevented from contacting one another and denied any say in the statue decision. How can anything be resolved while these trustees are prepared to flout all the rules to get their way?”

Does the Gresley Society inspire public confidence in the charity sector?

According to its website, the Charity Commission has a regulatory role to ensure that charities are accountable, well run and meet their legal obligations and objectives for public benefit. It strives to ensure that the public can be confident about giving their support to charities.  Two of its three priorities are to develop:

  • public confidence in the charity sector
  • the sector’s compliance and accountability

In March, campaigners for the reinstatement of the mallard to Sir Nigel Gresley’s statue submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission concerning the recent conduct of trustees of the Gresley Society Trust (GST) (charity number 1081581) both towards the public, and at their 2015 AGM. It contends that the trustees’ conduct seriously undermines public confidence in charities and should be investigated.

Some of the issues raised concern breaches of Charity Commission ‘Best Practice’ guidance, while others involve the more serious contravention of the Companies Act 2006. Together, they indicate corporate mismanagement of the Gresley Society Trust by trustees bent on defending a simple decision made at a committee meeting in early 2015.

maquetteThat decision was to alter the design of a statue of Sir Nigel Gresley (due to be unveiled at King’s Cross on April 5th) that the GST had commissioned, by instructing the sculptor to remove a mallard duck that was to stand at the feet of the famous LNER locomotive engineer. A trivial matter, on the face of it, but one which has aroused a great deal of debate not just within the Gresley Society but in the regional, national, railway and third sector press, local and national radio, television, and on social media.  An online petition calling for the mallard’s reinstatement has over 3,200 signatures (representing six times the membership of the GST).

Since March 2015, we contend that the Gresley Society trustees have:
1. Influenced the outcome of 2015 AGM by:

  • failing to comply with the law on proxy voting (which they have partially admitted)
  • subverting the process for the election of trustees
  • withholding the membership list from members to prevent them contacting one another

2. Made a series of false claims in an attempt to justify their actions (eg this one)
3. Acted disreputably towards donors
4. Publicly insulted those who disagree with them

Conduct of trustees at the Gresley Society AGM

The 2015 AGM was held at Friends’ House, Euston on December 5th 2015. Certain actions by the trustees’ (pictured) before and during the meeting, it is contended, were calculated attempts to deny free and fair voting at the meeting, and to get three existing trustees re-elected whilst preventing new trustees from gaining places on the committee. These actions were successful.

20151205_130446 (Copy)

In advance of the AGM
1.1 Notices of the meeting failed to mention that there were a number of vacancies on the committee, nor was there any call for nominations.

1.2 Notices failed to mention members’ rights to vote by proxy (under the Companies Act 2006). The Vice Chairman admitted this when it was raised at the meeting, and again in an interview with Steam Railway Magazine in January 20162. This breaches s325 of the Companies Act 2006.

1.3 One of the trustees attempted to canvas proxy votes for his own use by contacting some members in the days before the meeting. In one canvassing email, the trustee concludes “It could prove crucial at the meeting.” This breaches s326 of the Companies Act 2006.

1.4 The trustees repeatedly refused to provide members with a membership list, which meant they were not able to contact one another in advance of the AGM (to arrange proxies, for example). This breaches s117 of the Companies Act 2006.

The reasons given for the refusal changed as time went on, vis:
i. The unavailability of a list in a “suitable format which can be circulated”. The Membership Secretary said in an email on 19.9.154 “The last such booklet was distributed to members in June 2008 and I regret I have not got round to replacing this with up to date information.” If true, this would appear to be in breach of s114 of the Companies Act 2006.

ii. The illegality of providing a list. The Chairman said in an email on 18.9.155: “Your demand for [a] membership [list] is asking us to act illegally, we cannot supply this information without the prior permission of members.”

secret squirreliii. ‘Legal requirements’ for requesting the list. The Chairman said at the AGM and again in an email on 5.2.15: “To have a membership list you have to meet several legal requirements and one will be supplied when you comply with them, and not before.” The Chairman was asked at the AGM what the legal requirements were. He replied: “It’s not for us to tell you; you can find out for yourselves.”

During the AGM
1.5 During the meeting, the chair ruled that 26 proxy authorisations held by a (pro-duck) member, were inadmissible, in breach of s327 of the Companies Act. When challenged, the chairman explained that the member had not declared the authorisations before the start of the meeting, saying ‘the rules on this are quite clear’ (which they are, but the declaration need only be made before the vote, not the meeting).

1.6 Five of six nominations to the committee were ruled out of the election of trustees for unexplained ‘technical’ reasons. The chairman said the membership would be balloted (by post) on these nominations once the technical issues had been resolved. This has yet to happen, four months later.

1.7 Three trustees retired (by rotation) at the AGM and all stood for re-election. They were elected en bloc in breach of s160 of the Companies Act 2006.


The Charity Commission’s priorities – of developing public confidence in the charity sector, and accountability and compliance – would seem to make this complaint against the Gresley Society trustees worthy of the regulator’s urgent attention.