Dispute over social club could go to court
A LEGAL dispute over the ownership of the Langholm social club building has intensified, with a strong possibility it will go to court.
Legion Scotland is claiming the building as its own and has demanded the keys be handed over, while the club trustees, who disaffiliated from Legion Scotland, say they have strong evidence it belongs to them.
There has been no change in membership, despite the separation of branch and club at the behest of headquarters at Royal British Legion Scotland (RBLS) in 2007/08.
David Patterson, club chairman, said: "If the club closes, there is little doubt it would remain closed because there is no appetite to reform a branch and rekindle the association with RBLS among the current membership."
When asked on what basis did Legion Scotland claim ownership, it said "by virtue of our constitution, of which there has been a number of versions and says the social club is inextricably linked with the Legion".
David said: "The Land Registry in Edinburgh says the property belongs to the trustees of the social club. The building is on the accounts of the social club and it has never been questioned.
"In 2001 minutes show that the branch did not own the building. That was a formally minuted meeting of the Legion area committee. I place a lot of emphasis on that but it could be challenged.
"Under charity law, I think that if Legion Scotland owned the building, they should have charged the club a nominal rent. When the branch split, the club agreed to allow the branch to use the building but we never charged them.
"Each year the fees to Legion Scotland increased and the branch got all the fees and sent them to Edinburgh. Now we charge £10, or £12 for a new member, and the social club benefits from that income.
"There was one committee before 2007/08 when the branch split and created its own committee. The club could not be a charity because it has a bar and makes money. It is self-supporting and pays the staff and bills and is carrying out a refurbishment.
"Our legal team looked into the constitution and says that, although Legion Scotland talks about being "inextricably linked", the constitution says the social club and branch are separate. Legion Scotland wants all the reward and none of the risks of running the club.
"Our solicitor wrote to Legion Scotland in February saying this is our position. If they think otherwise, they need to provide the evidence to back it up. We've been waiting since then.
"If they were to challenge us and submit papers to the court, we would have to decide whether to escalate it to the court. We're preparing for that and it will be expensive."
At the recent AGM members decided to set up a fighting fund and a sub-committee has been formed but the trustees are not involved and neither is the club's funds.
The club has about £20,000 to pay for a new roof and about £10,000 to buy a new boiler after the existing one was damaged in the flooding in December 2015. The trustees also want to refurbish the interior.
David said this type of dispute was becoming a national issue with other clubs, like Irvine, in the same situation.
"We're not being disrespectful to the work Legion Scotland do and we'd like to think the club can support the Legion and keep that link.
Kevin Gray Legion Scotland (Royal British Legion Scotland) chief executive offficer, said: “The club premises in Langholm is, and has always been, a charitable asset of the Royal British Legion Scotland.
"Since opening in 1947, the premises have been managed by members of Legion Scotland and the club has been a key part of community life, benefiting veterans and citizens.
“The members’ entitlement to manage and use the club has relied on their continued membership of the charity. In October 2016 the Langholm members made clear their intention to discontinue their membership of Legion Scotland and withheld their capitation fees, which all members are required to pay. “Legion Scotland made numerous attempts to discuss and address concerns raised by the former members in Langholm. Central to finding a way forward was for them to renew their capitation.
"Sadly, they have been unwilling and we are in the unavoidable situation of having to pursue a legal remedy to clarify ownership of the premises.
“Legion Scotland is required by law to act in the best interest of our 30,000-plus members and protecting our charitable assets is central to this. We remain open to dialogue with the former members to find an amicable solution and our sincere hope is that we can welcome them back into the fold, ensuring the club can continue its operations as before.”