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Clair Scott, a first-time buyer of a Taylor Wimpey house with doubling ground rent, pulled out of a radio interview after lawyers asked her to withdraw allegations “made to the BBC and other media”.
The demand (in full below) came from professional negligence solicitors Berrymans Lace Mawer (BLM) representing Bannister Preston Solicitors of Bolton, who handled the conveyancing of Ms Scott’s property.
“We request that Ms Scott withdraws the allegations made to the BBC and any other media,” says the letter from BML, Ms Scott
“Ms Scott is running the risk of allegations being broadcast and/or published which are untrue and may have a serious impact on our client.”
As a result of the letter Ms Scott, who gave evidence on the Taylor Wimpey ground rent scandal to the All-Party Parliamentary Group in November, declined to take part in a BBC Radio Five Live interview which also included Sebastian O’Kelly, of LKP.
Instead, the programme was broadcast on December 18 with Katie Kendrick, owner of a Bellway leasehold house in Ellesmere Port.
Mr O’Kelly wrote to David Carter Hughes, head of property at Bannister Preston Solicitors, Bolton, asking for an explanation:
“Ms Scott is obviously shaken to receive a letter of this sort, and declined to be interviewed by BBC Radio Five Live yesterday …
“It is a disturbing matter that a young first-time buyer is being intimidated from discussing matters of legitimate public concern owing to lawyers asking for the withdrawal of unspecified allegations; especially as these unspecified allegations may not be allegations at all but the “risk of allegations”.
“Can you please either suggest the wording, for publication, that you would like Ms Scott to adopt for the withdrawal of any statement that has been made to the BBC, or any other media; or, alternatively, cease this game-playing nonsense?”
Sir Peter Bottomley also asked for an explanation on the morning of December 20 before the leasehold reform debate in the Commons. In fact, he referred to the incident in his speech.
“I ask please to be informed … [of] the words that made clear that the resale value would be adversely affected by the provision that the ground rent would be doubled from the 10th anniversary, quadrupled after 20 years, eight times higher after 30, 16 times higher after 40 and 32 times higher on the fiftieth anniversary?
“Do the notes or the written advice mention the price and costs in the first two years of purchasing the freehold, or how those sums might rise in subsequent years?
“If you were now advising a first-time buyer, would you point to the dangers of the provision or would you believe the solicitor’s obligation to be limited to the words of a ground rent provision?
“I do not write as the leaseholders’ MP; I ask because I sense another injustice is being added to the unfair burden already experienced by innocent buyers.
“Members of Parliament are grateful to Clair Scott for talking to the All Party Group. We gained the impression that the value of the home is significantly lowered by the ground rent provision.
“Is that in dispute?”
Sir Peter’s email was copied to the office of Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which asked to see the response.
Sir Peter’s specific points were not addressed, but BLM did respond.
It emerges that the words complained about were not made by Clair Scott, but were a précis of the dispute sent to Preston Bannister Solicitors for comment in an email from BBC journalist Jill McKenzie.
It said: “We’ve spoken to a woman called Clair Scott, who bought a home in Bolton in 2011, and used your firm [Bannister Preston Solicitors], as recommended by Taylor Wimpey (the housebuilder).
“She says Bannister Preston didn’t flag up the long-term cost of the leasehold contract –which included a clause stating that the ground rent doubles every 10 years (starting at £295, so by 2061 it’ll be £9,440 per year).”
Ms Scott has always made clear to LKP that Bannister Preston Solicitors had indicated the ground rent clauses in her lease before purchase.
Of the 109 responses to LKP’s survey of buyers of new build properties with onerous ground rents, 21 used the services of Bannister Preston Solicitors, which were recommended by Taylor Wimpey.
BLM’s letter is attached: