Museum trustees pledge to fight synagogue-disrepair writ

Part of the disused synagogue

Part of the disused synagogue

Trustees of an immigration museum housed in a disused synagogue have said they will vigorously contest a writ issued against them in the High Court.

The Spitalfields Centre for the Study of Minorities, located in the former Federation synagogue in Princelet Street, east London, is facing a demand to appoint new trustees to the charity.

But the legal action follows concern from the landlords about the state of the 18th century building, which is on English Heritage's at risk register.

Once the home of Huguenot merchants, 19 Princelet Street opened as a synagogue in 1869 and was sold in 1983 to the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust. The trust leased the building to the Centre, whose original trustees included the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn.

In 2002, the Centre launched a £3 million appeal to restore the building with hopes of eventually opening it permanently to the public. So far it has raised over £300,000 for the project.

But the museum is "rarely open" for public viewing at present, according to its website, because the building is "so fragile".

In February this year, the Spitalfields Trust says that it served a notice of repairs on the Centre, following a survey carried out last year. Timber framing around the upper windows needed "urgent action" to avoid a partial collapse of the upper part of the synagogue roof, according to the survey. Leadwork on the roof also needed fixing to stop water dripping through.

Edward Harris, the trust's solicitor, said: "We're not saying the building is falling down. But it needs urgent attention to stop lack of repairs getting worse and causing long-term defects to the property."

He said that a letter containing details of the required repairs was sent by recorded delivery to the synagogue, but was not collected and eventually returned to him the following month.

In February, the trust's chairman Patrick Streeter, acting in a personal capacity, issued a High Court writ against the Centre's chairman Susie Symes and her fellow trustee, seeking an order to appoint three additional trustees.

The same month the Charity Commission received notice from the Centre that it was appointing three new trustees, who took up office in April.

Ms Symes said: "The charity strongly denies the allegations of Mr Streeter and is vigorously contesting the claim in court."

But Mr Streeter said that he intended to pursue his legal action. "We only know the names of the new trustees, not the addresses, which is no good," he said. "I need the addresses to contact them."

    Last updated: 12:15pm, April 14 2011