Ryhurst fails in £14million damages claim against Whittington NHS
High Court judge rules 'political pressure' over Grenfell was not only reason for 'abandonment'
28 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Ruling seals third successful campaign for Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition
CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after a private company lost its £14million in damages legal claim against the Whittington.
Ryhurst, part of the Rydon Group, argued in a trial at the Technology and Construction Court in December it had been unfairly dumped because of “political pressure”.
The company had in early June 2017 been named as the preferred bidder by the Whittington board to steer redevelopment of the Highgate hospital’s estate in a Strategic Estates Partnership (SEP).
But a campaign was launched to stop the deal going through because of the company’s connection to the Grenfell Tower lead contractor, Rydon Maintenance.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among MPs to send letters to the Whittington urging the board not to go ahead with the deal, while the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) organised several protests.
The Whittington’s lawyers had argued in the court that Grenfell was not the only reason for the change of heart and that Ryhurst was to blame for significantly changing its demands for how it would profit from redevelopment of public land.
In his judgment, handed down this morning, High Court Judge Stephen Davis said: “Ryhurst has failed in its core case that the reason for the abandonment was political pressure based solely or primarily on the Grenfell connection. There were a number of rational reasons for abandoning the SEP procurement which the Trust Board was entitled to and did take into account in reaching its decision.”
The Whittington had in its legal argument revealed how Ryhurst had wanted its own subsidiary, Dev-Co, to undertake “all commercial development” with “long leasehold interests” and “guaranteed land payments” while acting as a “property developer” for all the Trust’s sites.
“Ryhurst would then have been free to place construction and other work with companies with the Rydon Group,” the Whittington’s legal argument had said. This was the reason why NHS chiefs had moved to abandon the deal.
Rejecting this argument, Ryhurst’s barrister Sarah Hannaford QC had read out emails from the Whittington’s former chairman, sent by the late Steve Hitchins in April 2018, saying the project was collapsing and “the biggest reason is inevitably politics”, blaming top-ranking NHS bosses for “lacking backbone” and caving-in under pressure from campaigners.
The board had told the public that without Ryhurst the entire Whittington hospital could be shut down or swallowed up by a bigger trust. But this turned out to be a wild exaggeration and the NHS trust is currently in sound financial health.
The DWHC has now won three significant campaigns against plans at the Whittington in the last decade.
Chairwoman Shirley Franklin said: “The whole saga of a company suing the NHS is obscene. It’s what happens with privatisation, you get this distortion and mess.
“The Whittington board made a terribly serious error. We had been saying that to them all along that they had to drop this company. We had to campaign. They all looked at us as if we were mad. They absolutely blanked us. Now they won’t thank any of us. We’ve won every campaign on the Whittington. It is fascinating why we keep winning. Because we had a campaign, because we have that profile – it must have some sort of impact.”
Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington said: “We are very pleased at this outcome. We were always disappointed that Ryhurst chose to take legal action and we defended our decision to abandon the procurement robustly.”
A new draft estates strategy is being developed by the trust.