TCDS and the Atmos for Totnes campaign have been asking ‘What Happened?’, ever since the former Dairy Crest site was sold from under our feet in January 2020. We think it is time for a re-cap of the facts, including some new information that has recently come to light, as reported by George Monbiot in The Guardian on 15th September 2021.
The facts as we understand them are:
- After several years of intensive work and months of negotiations, the Totnes community was gazumped on the sale of the site at the very last minute, when Saputo (Dairy) UK – formerly Dairy Crest – sold the land to Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd.
- The Totnes community lost its rights to the site on a technicality about a footpath that was no longer relevant and could easily have been resolved.
- Patrick Gillies, who brokered the deal with Fastglobe, has told TCDS, on the record, that he, rather than Fastglobe, is, along with his colleague Robert Williams, the “co-ordinator, project manager and partner” of their scheme. He has described Fastglobe as being just a “purchase vehicle”, or “like a bank”.
- TCDS has recently learned that until he got divorced, Tom Atherton, President and Chief Operating Officer of Saputo (Dairy) UK, was Patrick Gillies’ brother in law.
This does not make the sale of the site by Saputo UK to Fastglobe illegal. However, Saputo are a reputable company with clear statements and codes concerning ethical practices and conflicts of interest, so we would expect that this family relationship would be openly and clearly declared.
The Atmos for Totnes campaign wrote to Tom Atherton on June 5th 2021 to ask detailed questions about what due diligence Saputo (Dairy) UK did on Fastglobe as the buyers of the site. They did not get a response. TCDS have now contacted Mr Atherton to ask if he disclosed this family relationship to the board of Saputo (Dairy) UK as well as to the board of Saputo Inc, the parent company in Canada. He has not given us a response to date. We also wrote to Patrick Gillies to ask him about this relationship. He also has not given us a response to date.
We informed the Corporance Governance and HR Committee of Saputo Inc, in a letter dated August 3rd 2021, about our concerns relating to the circumstances in which TCDS lost our interest in the site and were gazumped.
It is our opinion that in light of these matters, there are important questions for Saputo to clarify about whether the sale complied with Saputo Inc’s commitment to its own ethical standards (as enshrined in the ‘Saputo Promise’ and its Saputo Code of Ethics) including integrity, and avoidance of conflicts of interest. This is why we called on Saputo Inc, when we wrote to them, to conduct an investigation into Saputo (Dairy) UK’s handling of the sale.
In response to our letter of 3rd August, they advised us that they would be conducting an investigation, saying they were taking TCDS’s allegations “very seriously”. Six weeks later, on 14th September 2021, they responded to our letter, stating:
“Although Saputo is reviewing your concerns relating to Mr. Atherton’s conduct, we believe that the sale of the site is legal, executory and has been validly and legally completed for all purposes and cannot be legally unwound. We no longer have any legal rights to this property and therefore cannot control or influence any future plans for the site”.
When TCDS wrote to Saputo on 3rd August 2021, however, we were not asking questions about the legality of the sale. We were asking about its ethics. We were raising serious questions with Saputo about how the sale of the site complied with Saputo’s own code of ethics, and those questions remain unanswered.
The wider issues of public interest, of trust in corporations, of how big businesses act in small communities, also remain. And the questions we still have for Saputo speak to these wider questions. So they are relevant not just to Totnes and its citizens, but to the communities up and down the UK where Saputo does business.
On behalf of the Community that is represented in the Atmos development scheme, we will continue to pursue the Community’s interest in the site. We call on Saputo Inc and South Hams District Council to do all they can to ensure that the site is returned into community ownership, so the people of Totnes can get the groundbreaking and shovel ready scheme it designed and so overwhelmingly voted for.