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Melton's Town Estate uncovered

BBC Inside Out investigates the Melton Mowbray Town Estate

BBC Inside Out takes a glimpse behind the closed doors that shelter a multi-million pound charity.

The Melton Mowbray Town Estate has sidelined women and ignored advice from the Charity Commission.

The charity is supposed to be democratic, yet it will not allow public scrutiny of its meetings and changes the rules and locks when a woman is elected to a senior position.

The Town Estate refused to take part in the programme despite several requests.

Tony Roe finds out what is going on in the Leicestershire market town and attends the Town Estate's annual meeting - but is refused access.

A market town

Melton Mowbray calls itself the rural capital of food and is famous for its pork pie.

A park in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire
The parks and market in Melton Mowbray are paid by the Town Estate

If you have ever been to the town you might have wondered why it has so many parks - probably more open public space than any town of a similar size.

It is because Melton is one of the few places left in Britain with a special tradition going back five centuries.

The parks and markets are not run and paid for by the local council but by another elected body, the Town Estate which is a charity.

The Town Estate pays for the parks upkeep by using the money it raises on market days. About a quarter of a million pounds is collected every year, much of it in cash.

And the Estate owns 100 acres of prime development land south of Melton worth many millions of pounds which could one day be used for housing should the town get a southern bypass.

Women sidelined?

Melton Mowbray's Town Estate was set up in medieval times and to some it seems the way it operates belongs to a feudal society. They feel everyone in Melton should have a vote in how the Estate is run.

But ever since a woman was elected to a senior position on the Estate it has been mired in controversy.

Pat Cumbers, a former Mayor of Melton
They said it was temporary but it was clear they did not want me
Pat Cumbers, Former Mayor of Melton

Pat Cumbers, a former Mayor of Melton, found her authority removed three days after she was elected. The locks were changed on the Town Estate offices so she could not look at the books.

She was later suspended before the Charity Commission told the Town Estate they had no power to do that.

Mrs Cumbers is also concerned at the lack of criminal record checks on park workers. It follows the jailing of a park kiosk attendant, Michael Bonshor, for the sexual grooming of two underage schoolgirls.

Bonshor was 55 at the time but the chairman of the Town Estate, Ken Saunders, called the episode "six of one and half a dozen of the other".

Mr Saunders told the Charity Commission he did not think it necessary to carry out criminal record checks on employees. He quoted other councils where he said staff were not checked.

BBC Inside Out checked and both Melton and Hinckley and Bosworth DO check their staff. As do other councils which employ park staff in Leicestershire.

Sue's concerns

Another woman who was elected a "feoffee", or trustee, on the Town Estate was Sue Gowans. She says she was not even allowed in the Town Estate offices.

Newspaper article
Sue says she was not allowed in the Town Estate offices

She also alleges she was told the price of hiring stalls for a Charity Christmas Fayre depended upon how she voted in a Town Estate meeting.

She voted against a commercial deal and then found the price of stalls had tripled in price from a previous agreement. The claims that it depended on how she voted were denied.

The Estate took her to court and lost.

Mrs Gowans says she was also shaken to find a picture of a man wearing only underpants with the word "Caution" emblazoned upon the front. The photo was in her paperwork taken away from a Town Estate meeting.

Mrs Gowans and Mrs Cumbers are no longer "feoffees".

Mrs Gowans stood down, feeling driven out. Mrs Cumbers tried to stand for re-election but they refused to allow her to stand. One of the present trustees sons was appointed to replace her without a ballot.

A men's club?

Some in the town have called the Town Estate a "men's club" where they are unwilling to listen to the opinion of people in the Town.

One café owner said, "Basically their attitude is we're going to do what we want so stuff the lot of you. Nobody seems to have any say in what's done."

The Town Estate refused to take part in the BBC Inside Out film despite several requests over the past 10 months.

BBC Inside Out is refused access to the Town Estate's annual meeting


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