About Libby Ranzetta

Grew up in Watton at Stone, the other end of village from Watton House, where Sir Nigel Gresley had lived. Our garden ran down to the river Beane, as did his. There were mallards.

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.

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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.

Another Gresley Society grandee speaks out for the mallard

A year or so ago, when the Gresley Society trustees were trying to justify their decision to remove the mallard from Sir Nigel’s statue at the request of Gresley’s grandsons (Tim and Ben Godfrey), they claimed that all the Society’s Vice Presidents had made ‘adverse comments’ about the duck. The statement the trustees sent to the press and other enquirers at time said:

When we began to receive significant adverse comments on the presence of a duck at the feet of Sir Nigel from our President, all ten Vice-Presidents and senior officers at other related organisations, we quickly realised that we could not proceed without a careful re-appraisal of the project.

It was a surprise, therefore, when one of those Vice Presidents signed the petition to reinstate the mallard last summer. Sir William McAlpine, who is also Patron of the Gresley Society, had not made ‘adverse comments’ to the trustees at all; he thought the mallard was a good idea from the outset – a view he stuck to when Gresley Society Chairman David McIntosh asked him to reconsider. Sir William told McIntosh:

Sir_William_McAlpineI was attracted by the statue with the duck, when it was first shown in the press. I thought it was interesting and appropriate as did many, who saw it. The duck would attract attention to the statue, which presumably was what it was intended to do. I still think so. The Godfrey brothers ….no doubt wish to show respect for the Great Man, but I think they have missed the point. The duck shows him as human and with interests other than railways.

Future generations will not know who Sir Nigel Gresley was, but would ask about the duck and would discover what he achieved.

That was last summer. Fast forward to now, and it transpires there is another pro-mallard Vice President pro-mallard: Conservative peer the Earl of Lindsay. The Earl of Lindsay’s father, Viscount Garnock owned a Gresley locomotive 61994, which was purchased direct from British Railways in December 1961. 61994 was a Gresley designed class K4 named the ‘Great Marquess’ (pictured, by Stan Laundon) introduced in 1937 for work on the West Highland Line. On the death of Viscount Garnock in 1989, Great Marquess was passed on to his son, the 16th Earl of Lindsay.


Great Marquess was subsequently sold to the Fife sheep farmer, and President of the Gresley Society, John Cameron, in 2003.  When we asked the Earl of Lindsay about the statue of Sir Nigel, he said:

earl of lindsayI strongly support the presence of a mallard. I am happy for you to share this information with others if that would be helpful. FYI, prior to your e-mail I had not been approached for my views, either by the Gresley Society Council or by anyone else. It is therefore not accurate for it to be suggested that all Vice Presidents disapproved of the mallard.

The Gresley Society trustees’ false claim about the Vice Presidents forms part of a complaint that is currently being considered by the Charity Commission.

First rule of the Gresley Society: don’t talk about the statue

Some Gresley Society members have been trying for a while to get a copy of the membership list, which according to the GS website is published periodically.
The requests for the list were refused for various reasons, Initially we were told the list was not in a “suitable format which can be circulated”. (The Membership Secretary said “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.”)

Then the problem was data protection, with the Chairman saying:“Your demand for [a] membership [list] is asking us to act illegally, we cannot supply this information without the prior permission of members.”

More recently, the excuse from the Chairman was: “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.” When we asked him at the AGM what the legal requirements were. He replied: “It’s not for us to tell you; you can find out for yourselves.”

So a member made a formal request under section 116 of the Companies Act 2006, saying the list would be used to contact others to further his knowledge of Gresley. And got an extraordinary reply from the Gresley Society Secretary, including this extract:

“if we believe the information is requested for an improper purpose we could apply to court to direct that we do not comply with your request. However, on the basis that you have only requested the information to converse with like minded members to further your knowledge of Sir Nigel Gresley, and that this is the only reason for which the information will be used, we are of the view that this is a proper purpose to disclose the information to you.


We would note, however, in making this decision that we have considered the risk of you using the information for other purposes, especially given concerns raised by members in the past of unsolicited correspondence regarding other matters. In particular we assume (on the basis that you do not mention this) that you do not intend to contact members on an unsolicited basis in respect of the current disputes surrounding the status of the statue proposed of Sir Nigel.

first rule of the gresley society
As it is an offence to knowingly or recklessly make in a request such as yours a statement that is misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular (pursuant to section 119(1) Companies Act 2006) or to disclose information to someone who could use the information other than for a proper purpose, in each case with liability for such an offence being a maximum of two years imprisonment and/or a fine on indictment, we have taken the view that the sole purpose for your request is to converse with members who have a similar mindset to you, in respect of Sir Nigel Gresley himself, and trust you will limit your use of the information to this, and not disclose the members list to others.”


The member replied on 16th Feb:

“Now, on reflection and your wish to pursue me through the court should I divulge the contents of the list, or use it for a purpose you see unfit […] I have changed my mind on why I wish to use it.  [..] So my reason for the request is now “in order to canvas members’ opinions about the mallard prior to requesting a poll”

I wish to do this because, despite spending £95,000 of the members money on the statue GST have consistently refused a members’ decision.”

He has yet to receive a reply.

Gresley Society AGM part 1: off to a bad start

We’ve been looking at the ins and outs of the Gresley Society AGM, held in London last December, in connection with a complaint to the Charity Commission. A lot of people who attended were shocked at the way it was run, for reasons which will become clear over the coming days.

It was obvious at the time that the trustees were determined to get their way over the statue and over the election of trustees – whatever their members thought. The way they achieved this was absolutely ruthless and, we contend, in large part illegal.
How were the trustees ruthless in pursuit of what they wanted? Well, let’s start with just one example, which gives a flavour of how things went.

The Gresley Society AGM is normally tagged on to a talk of interest to GS members, which is also open to the public. The AGM notice on the GS website is still there as of 12:47h today, and there is nothing to suggest the meeting was to be members only. Nor was there any mention of this in the notices of the meeting that appeared in the house magazine, the Gresley Observer.

One member from Gloucestershire had been nominated to stand for election as trustee and was accompanied to the meeting by his wife. The couple had driven up to London that morning, directly after she had finished work (on a night shift).

The couple, like the other attendees, were checked-in just outside the meeting room and took their seats inside. As the proceedings got under way, the Chairman announced the meeting was for members only, and said any non-members must leave the room. He said ‘we know there is a non-member present.’ And so, the poor woman was evicted from the room, all eyes on her as she walked out into a cold winter afternoon.

Why did the trustees think that was necessary? Perhaps it was designed to set the tone for the rest of the meeting. In fact, the rest of the meeting was even more unpleasant.

To be continued…

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Gresley Society trustees (L to R): Peter Beynon, Ian MacCabe, David McIntosh, Philip Benham, Graeme Bunker, Mike Foreman. Chris Nettleton (not pictured) was on sentry duty outside the room


Gresley Society: we acted illegally over duck

sp3The Gresley Society has admitted it broke the law in defending its controversial decision to alter the statue.

As gresleyduck.org readers know, the 7’4 bronze statue, due to be unveiled at King’s Cross station in April, was to feature a mallard duck at Sir Nigel’s feet, symbolising his world speed record breaking locomotive Mallard, and as a nod to his love of waterfowl. But the trustees of the Gresley Society, who commissioned the work, gave in to the demands of two of Gresley’s grandsons, who said the duck was demeaning and must be omitted.

steam railway agm reportThe decision to axe the mallard caused an outcry and led to resignations from the Society, a 3,000-strong online petition and objections from leading figures in the heritage railway world, including the Gresley Society’s own patron Sir William McAlpine.

It was anticipated that differences would be resolved at the Society’s recent AGM, but trustees failed to comply with legal requirements on proxy voting, effectively denying most members a say. Vice Chairman Philip Benham, in an interview with Steam Railway magazine, admitted the trustees had broken the law, saying the matter “will be remedied in future”.

Ron Vale, a Gresley Society member for over 30 years, said:

“I had been authorised by 26 fellow members to vote on their behalf at the meeting, but was told on the day that the votes wouldn’t count.

This is not the way a respectable organisation should behave. I am appalled and embarrassed at the way the Gresley Society has handled this whole affair.”

How hopelessly dim-witted – for Gresley to go without his duck

Guardian journalist Ian Jack made a thoughtful addition to the thousands of words written about the great Gresley statue debate, in an article entitled Duck and cover: there’s no row like a railway enthusiasts’ row published on 16th January.

The whole thing is well worth a read (as are the comments at the end), but here’s Ian Jack’s conclusion:

Sometimes during my short investigation of this story, I thought of how it might suit a dark Ealing comedy such as Kind Hearts and Coronets: Gresley was from the cadet branch of the family, which meant that after he was knighted in 1936 there were two Sir Nigel Gresleys, the other being the baronet. At other times I thought of Marcel Varnel’s Oh, Mr Porter!: the first scene, in which men in top hats and ladies in fine dresses have gathered to name one of Gresley’s streamliners and Will Hay’s clumsiness nearly drowns them all in a flood of misdirected engine-water.

But mainly what I thought was how sad and stupid it would be – how hopelessly dim-witted – for Gresley to go without his duck.


Gresley statue letters in the Times – January 2016

james dow lettter1 (Copy)James Dow, son of the former Gresley Society Vice Chairman Andrew Dow BEM, kicked off a slew of pro-mallard letters in the Times last week. Dow Senior was the driving force behind the statue project, and resigned when most of his colleagues voted to remove the mallard.  (James’s grandfather George Dow was Press Relations Officer for LNER during WWII.)

The following day (27th Jan), a second letter highlighted the importance of the molehill in the St James’ Square statue of William III.


On 28th Jan a third letter-writer felt the mallard deserved a standalone statue, whilst a fourth the next day talked of other notable statues that include animals.stationary duck

mans best friends 29.1



For Wellington’s traffic cone; Gresley’s rubber duck – an avoidable embarrassment for Camden

SP-Statue-wall-front-viewCamden Council granted planning permission for the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard in November 2014, with the words “the works hereby approved are only those specifically indicated on the drawing(s) referred to above”. The ‘drawings‘, of course, and all the supporting documentation (such as the computer-generated picture shown here) clearly indicated a mallard duck at Gresley’s feet. This was the design the Gresley Society trustees had approved, and the one submitted to public consultation through the planning process.

And yet, now that the trustees have had their minds changed and have changed the design of the statue by asking the sculptor to remove the mallard, Camden Council apparently do not intend to insist the installation goes ahead as per the permission, ie with the mallard.  This is despite overwhelming public support for inclusion of the mallard, and as we understand it, in breach of planning law.


It remains to be seen whether protesters will pursue this latest point and call for judicial review of Camden’s decision, but one thing does seem certain: there will be ducks on the statue. So many people have told us about plans for their own ducky tributes to Sir Nigel at King’s Cross that Camden looks set to have its own version of Glasgow’s Duke of Wellington statue, forever sporting a traffic cone.

plastic duckCamden could avoid this potential embarrassment now: by making it clear to the Gresley Society Trust that the statue must be installed lawfully, with the (bronze) mallard.