A crowdfunded campaign seeking to recover some of the £43 million of public money frittered away on the scrapped Garden Bridge has been abandoned following detailed legal advice
Just over £5,000 was raised through crowdjustice.com so that a range of legal avenues for reclaiming public money could be explored.
The campaign was launched in August by writer and campaigner Will Jennings after pro bono legal advice suggested there might be a case for bringing a judicial review of the Charity Commission, the regulator overseeing the arms-length charity which oversaw the project, the Garden Bridge Trust.
Lawyers also initially advised Jennings that there was a strong case ‘to take forward legal action with an ultimate aim of holding individuals or overseeing bodies accountable for negligence, with a view to having some share of the public funding returned’.
The Garden Bridge Trust, which was established during Boris Johnson’s second term as London mayor to deliver the Heatherwick Studio-designed bridge, was ultimately responsible for the bulk of the £53 million spent on the scheme, while Transport for London as well as the Charity Commission oversaw it.
But the crowdfunded legal bid has today (3 January) been shelved, after its appointed QC, Jason Coppel, said he did not believe there was a path to reclaiming money against any of the parties involved.
Coppel explored four separate legal routes which might be pursued:
- Proceedings against the trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust, by a member of the public who wanted the bridge completed
- A judicial review of the Charity Comission’s decision to conclude its investigation of the Garden Bridge Trust
- A judicial review of Transport for London’s decision to release the final tranche of £5.3 million funding for the project
- A private prosecution of senior TfL officials for misconduct in public office.
An earlier opinion from Coppel suggested it was ‘likely’ that the trustees – who include Garden Bridge champion Joanna Lumley and former chief government construction adviser Paul Morrell – breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care, ‘in particular in relation to the conclusion of the construction contract with Bouygues’.
Building work on the Garden Bridge never began and the construction contract ended up costing about half of the total public money lost on the project – £21.4 million.
But, after consideration, Coppel advised that none of the above four routes was likely to be successful in the courts and said he could not see any other avenues which were worth pursuing.
Jennings, also known for his satirical anti-Garden Bridge competition A Folly for London, confirmed with ‘deep regret’ that the latest legal advice marked the likely ‘end of any possible legal action against any actors or bodies related to the Garden Bridge Trust’.
He added: ‘I want to offer my heartfelt thanks for your support […] your generosity and concern for accountability regarding the Garden Bridge is hugely appreciated.’
The Garden Bridge Trust is currently being wound up by liquidator PwC.