Court case in Kenya threatens to derail plan to buy Suffolk pub

Marquis Cornwallis pub in Chedburgh
Campaigners are trying to purchase the Marquis Cornwallis pub in Chedburgh.

Campaigners in the UK trying to save a village pub fear their plans are in jeopardy after its owner became embroiled in a financial dispute and appeared in a Kenyan court charged with assault.

64-year-old Steven White, the owner of The Marquis Cornwallis in Chedburgh near Bury St Edmunds, appeared in Nairobi’s Kiambu Law Courts on Monday June 24 accused of assaulting his 28-year-old fiancée Peris Njambi. The couple met on Facebook in 2017 and got engaged to the following year.

According to Kenyan media, the couple had established a “lucrative business”, dealing in real estate. However the company was closed following a disagreement with Ms Njambi claiming she has been left with nothing.

The trial is scheduled for July 22 but a “representative” for Mr White has told the local press in the UK that the Briton is the victim of fraud and would be pursuing his own legal case against his fiancée.

Meanwhile, the Chedburgh Marquis Community Hub (CMCH) Ltd, which was formed last year to raise funds to buy the pub, have also been in disagreement with Mr White over the sale. Members are concerned that Mr White’s arrest could further jeopardise their plans to save the Marquis.

Since closing in October 2016, the pub has been registered as an Asset of Community Value, which gives community groups a right to bid to purchase it.

Campaigners are also trying to purchase a 1.5 acre plot of land adjacent to the pub which has been used as its car park.

Even without the Kenya court case, the sale has been complicated over company and land ownership issues. Land Registry searches show the pub was bought for £295,000 plus VAT in 2016 by Kenya Trading Ltd which according to records held by Companies House was incorporated in 2015 with Mr White and his then girlfriend Rachel Njeri Linnell as equal shareholders.

Subsequent records show Ms Linnell was terminated as a director on November 21, 2018 a move which she claims was done behind her back.

Ms Linnell’s solicitors are reported to have written to Mr White the day before she was removed as director asking him to sell the Marquis of Cornwallis for the £300,000 offered by community group and for Ms Linnell to receive £175,000 from the proceeds, together with her legal costs.

However, Mr White is reported to have rejected campaigners’ £300,000 offer with his agents disputing their claim it represented “market value”. He instead is said to have sought planning permission to convert it into housing, but both applications were refused by the borough council.

According to Land Registry documents, Kenya Trading Ltd owned both the pub and adjacent land, but since June 2018 ownership of the plot of land has been transferred twice.

Despite the complexity of the situation, efforts to buy the pub and plot of land are continuing.

Mr White also has Kenyan properties for sale on Ebay; a £100,000 apartment in Malindi and a £495,000 building plot for a mansion in the Masai Mara game reserve.

For more information about the campaign to buy the pub, please visit the Chedburgh Marquis Community Hub website.

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