Regarding Briddon vs Peak Rail plc, Chesterfield County Court, 1st February 2016
It is with much regret that we have to report that Andrew and I were forced to bring a small claims action against Peak Rail plc. During 2014, 14 901 was in service on Peak Rail (PR) for some 58 days, coming out of service in late November for essential servicing and modifications. At the same time, no less than 3 locomotives from Andrew's collection were in PR service on various works and shunting duties – Thomas Hill Vanguard 'Charlie' which had been the mainstay for over a decade, plus larger brother 'Cheedale' and Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0DM 'Ashdown' had been in operation regularly since 2013. In November (2014) PR requested that 14 901 be kept 'in reserve' to cover for any breakdowns during Santa traffic, in return for which the loco could be kept in the shed at Rowsley but would be pushed outside upon the end of Santa trains. We proposed an alternative arrangement which PR ignored so Andrew advised that the locomotive would be taken out of traffic after November 23rd.
In March 2015 we submitted invoices for consumables, e.g. oil and filters, and in 14901's case, brake blocks to PR, who after arguing over how many hours 14 901 had worked, failed to respond further. Andrew, with much regret and as a last resort, initiated an action under the Small Claims system.
Initially PR's defence against the claim was that (a) we were in breach for 14 901 in that we had not held the loco in reserve for Santas in 2014 (though PR could not cite a clause that we were in breach of, and in any event a breach at a certain date does not free the defendant from the obligation to pay up to that date) and that as far as the works locos went, PR Board were unaware that more than one loco was in use and that it had not therefore been sanctioned.
With a hearing date of 1st Feb, the 'evidence bundle' had to be submitted to the court on the 4th January and exchanged with the other party. Andrew wrote to PR on December 20th reminding them of this and asking them to include certain evidence including the Safety Management System ( SMS - which PR has consistently failed to provide). The letter went unanswered. We duly handed in our paperwork both to the Chesterfield County Court and to PR but received nothing in return from PR. On Jan 5th we e-mailed both PR Managing Directors and the Company Secretary expressing our concern that they had not complied with the court's instructions. We received no response.
During the following week we heard that PR had contacted a former employee to get a witness statement, yet when the Court issued an 'unless' order on the 15th, giving PR until 26th January to submit their evidence or suffer summary judgement, PR engaged solicitors (which did at least result in two-way correspondence) and claimed it was an 'administrative oversight'. A single witness statement from Peak Rail Managing Director Jacqueline Statham was subsequently submitted, without any supporting documentation.
More particularly, having seen our evidence this witness statement changed PR's position radically. Gone was the assertion that Andrew was in breach over withdrawing 14 901 from traffic: gone also was the claim that the PR Board were unaware of more than one works loco being in use (an e-mail from PR management had quoited the locos concerned by name in April 2014 and revealed that records of their use were held in the Matlock office) instead PR declared that brake blocks and antifreeze for 14 901 were ineligible as they were not a consumable, and that the additional two works locos Cheedale and Ashdown had been placed on free loan to PR to cover Charlie while out-stationed at Darley Dale in connection with works going on for the Geoffrey Briddon Building there. PR further held that the invoices were premature as they had been invoiced in advance of work being carried out, that it should only pay for exact quantities of lubricants used, other lesser assertions to minimise their liability, and that an independent competent person must see that the work had been carried out (which was not in the agreement). Clauses in the witness statement claimed that such and such was true because it was confirmed by volunteers and full-time PR staff members, although no evidence was produced to substantiate.
Indeed, the assertion that Cheedale and Ashdown were provided f.o.c. to cover for Charlie was made with no evidence to corroborate: whereas Cheedale had been in documented PR service since March 2013, (at which time planning approval for the building had not been granted), the agreement was signed in June, work did not commence for a further couple of months and Charlie spent little time at Darley Dale until the following year.
The hearing took place in Court 7 of Chesterfield County Court. Small Claims actions are kept informal and normally remain in the hands of the parties themselves without legal representation. Mrs Jacqueline Statham appeared for PR, with a local solicitor as PR's advocate. Much argument ensued regarding the definition of 'consumables' and their application on locomotives.
The Judge found that brake blocks and anti-freeze were consumables, that invoicing for work that had yet to be carried out was no different to "dilapidation" costs in Landlord and Tenant actions, and that estimates using manufacturer's information were entirely reasonable. The Judge found in favour of Andrew and Peter Briddon on all counts, and immediately, on instruction of PR's representative, the solicitor sought leave to appeal, which was denied.
The Briddons were awarded costs and interest (but waived their entitlement to attendance costs), bringing the total to be paid within 14 days to over £4400. Having had a solicitor on hand for over 7 hours on the day of the court hearing plus work carried out for PR over the previous ten days, it is likely that PR's total bill will be double.
Andrew commented 'This whole matter resulted from intransigence on the part of Peak Rail plc management. We are delighted that the Court found in our favour and supported our case entirely. I have great hopes for the future of the Matlock to Buxton railway but the monies wasted today would have been better devoted to development and expansion of the line'
We are not gloating on this, it was not our wish to take PR to court. We have endeavoured to state the facts above as truthfully and dispassionately as possible. Whether the monies expended in legal costs were an appropriate response is a matter for the Directors of Peak Rail plc and their consciences.