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Chester hospital threatens to sue in-house charity as 'trespassers'

Countess of Chester Hospital has extended eviction deadline after learning legal letter would be made public
The Comfort Zone shop and cafe within the Countess of Chester Hospital which raises money for the Chester Childbirth Appeal to provide improvements to the hospital environment for patients and visitors.

Hospital bosses have adopted a more conciliatory tone with a charity which has improved patient facilities over 25 years after threatening to sue them as ‘trespassers’ if they did not vacate the maternity wing by the end of today (Monday, January 16).

Chester Childbirth Appeal runs The Comfort Zone shop and cafe which has raised £2m in support of the women and children’s department at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Amenities funded include an overnight suite for parents with poorly babies, the Snowdrop Room for bereaved parents and the Baby Memorial Garden.

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Ann-Marie McGarry with her children George and Oscar and close friend Annmarie Robertswood, pictured in the Comfort Zone shop. Both women were supported by Chester Childbirth Appeal when they lost their first born babies.

Supporters say the Comfort Zone not only provides an income stream but is at the heart of charity’s identity with its warm and welcoming environment.

But now hospital chief executive Tony Chambers wants the area absorbed within the in-house catering department although he has committed to reinvesting equivalent sums raised by the shop in women and children’s services and maintaining the fundraising office used by charity founder Pat Daniels MBE, whom he described in an earlier press statement as ‘a remarkable woman’.

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But what upset charity organisers was a legal letter sent to their lawyers from hospital solicitor Stephen Cross on Friday (January 13) which has been leaked to The Chronicle.

Mr Cross wrote: “The hospital owns and is entitled to possession of the premises and to terminate any licence your client may have and that it is desirable for the purposes of the hospital to do so. Its notice dated 14th November 2016 was and remains valid and effective, and your client is expected to vacate the premises on 16th January 2017.

Stephen Cross, solicitor for the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

“If it remains, it will do so as a trespasser, and the hospital will be entitled to damages equivalent to the market rent for such premises. The suggestion that the notice was unreasonably short is not accepted. A period of eight weeks was ample.”

He added: “If your client fails to vacate then I am afraid proceedings are inevitable. The trustees will have to consider whether it is genuinely in the interests of the charity to defend them, and indeed to indemnify the trustees themselves against the claims for damages and costs.

“I hope, however, that when the contents of this letter have been considered by the trustees, good sense will prevail, and a discussion can be had about any outstanding practical issues.”

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The Chronicle informed the Countess the letter had been leaked.

Trust solicitor Mr Cross said in a statement issued today: “We have been having discussions with charity founder Mrs Pat Daniels MBE about the future of the Comfort Zone space for more than a year to try and reach a mutually beneficial arrangement for patients, their families and staff. We had hoped to deal with it in a way that built on the strong relationship we have always had with the charity. The Trust has invited the Trustees of the charity to a further meeting and this is being arranged.”

He added: “The charity does not have to get out by the end of the day and the purpose of a further meeting is to negotiate a way forward.”

The Bishop of Chester Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster and Pat Daniels of the Chester Childbirth Appeal when he attended the unveiling of a plaque recording the names of fundraisers for the Comfort Zone/sensory garden at the Women and Children's Unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital

Mrs Daniels said previously: “Without the Comfort Zone we would not be able to pay for much needed help for the women and children’s. We have also given £50,000 to the hospital’s own Babygrow Appeal. All this would be lost if the Comfort Zone is taken away from us.

“We are currently taking legal advice as we have been running the Comfort Zone for 16 years and believe we may have some rights to stay. In the first instance we would hope that the hospital would accept a market rent which we are more than willing to pay. If we cannot reach agreement on a rent we will be mounting a massive campaign to stay.”

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