Westminster dean accused of reneging on organist deal

THE DEAN of Westminster Abbey was last night accused of reneging on a severance settlement for the Abbey organist whose sacking last year caused controversy.

The alleged withdrawal of the offer by the Very Rev Wesley Carr came on the day organist Dr Martin Neary and his wife, Penny, moved out of their home in a cloister at the Abbey, where they had lived and worked for more than 10 years.

The Nearys were dismissed in April last year for alleged financial irregularities relating to a company they had set up to administer fees from concerts. They appealed to The Queen, in her capacity as Visitor to the Abbey, who appointed Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle to adjudicate on her behalf. In December, Lord Jauncey announced that the Nearys were guilty of gross misconduct. However, he was also critical of the way in which the Abbey had handled the affair.

The former House of Commons Speaker Lord Weatherill, who holds the honorary title of High Bailiff of Westminster Abbey, had been trying to negotiate a settlement for the Nearys since before Christmas. He and the Labour MP Frank Field and Sir Bryan Thwaites, all friends of the couple, left a meeting with the Dean and Chapter last Friday under the impression that an agreement which would finally close the acrimonious dispute had been reached.

They said in a statement last night that the agreement included three propositions, which included, that the couple be paid their salaries up until 9 December 1998, and that Dr Neary, 58, should be paid his full pension on reaching the normal retirement age of 65.

Their statement continued: "That acceptance was conveyed to the Dean within the hour and confirmed by letter from Sir Bryan Thwaites the following day. The Dean has now reneged on all three of his propositions."

However, Westminster Abbey last night denied that any such settlement had ever been reached. John McAngus, Assistant Receiver General at the Abbey, said that any settlement was legally impossible given the charges of gross misconduct against the Nearys were upheld. He said they had been prepared to waive all rental from the time of the termination of their contracts and forego their right to seek recovery of profits.