Theatre group has “no grounds to contest sale of hall”.jpg

Theatre group has “no grounds to contest sale of hall”

Special Report by Chris Graeme [email protected]

The Lisbon Players, who are fighting a legal battle through the Portuguese courts over disputed ownership rights to the theatre they have occupied since 1947, may “have no grounds” to contest the British Government’s plans to sell the land it occupies.

The Lisbon Players, who are claiming “Squatters Rights” to Estrela Hall and have carried out substantial improvement and structural works to the building over the years, were in a Lisbon court earlier this month contesting the British Government’s rights under Portuguese law to sell the site for redevelopment.

The legal case surrounding ownership under Portuguese law is “extremely complicated” since it involves documents and patents stretching back to the reign of Queen Maria I in the second half of the 18th century.

Furthermore, the British Government became the nominal owner of the 1.7 hectare site in 1944 at the request of the British Community bodies, including the Anglican Church, Protestant Cemetery, the British Hospital and Royal British Club.    

But a British Embassy spokesman told the Algarve Resident on Tuesday that the “legal advice is that the players have no grounds on which to contest the sale of the hall”.


Under the Labour Government of Tony Blair it was made Government policy not to continue to hold land that was no longer needed. That policy still stands under the present Government.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office intends to sell the Estrela site in Lisbon, which is formally owned by Her Majesty’s Government, “in name only”, on behalf of the stakeholders which include the British Club, the British Hospital and the British Church of St. George.

However, from the outset, the British Government has indicated that it would not be involved in the administration of the property, which is currently being marketed for redevelopment by the British international real estate group CB Richard Ellis.

It was after preparations for sale had reached an advanced stage that the Lisbon Players took court action claiming to have acquired ownership through continual use since 1947.

The Government states that the group was left in peace on the site since 1947 “on a variety of informal understandings” and that for some years now they “have maintained the hall in lieu of rent”.

With the exception of the Lisbon Players, all of the other stakeholders agreed to the sale of the site. Following consultations going back to 2005, stakeholders agreed to combine their interests, sell all the site not occupied by the church and cemetery as a single property and divide the proceeds in pre-agreed proportions.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is acting as the facilitator and not the stakeholder, said the spokesman, and its costs and expenses would be deducted from the gross proceeds of sale.

“The FCO completed the necessary legal preparations for sale by re-registering the site in early August 2008. Shortly after receiving confirmation that HMG’s interest had been registered, we learnt that the Lisbon Players had filed a claim in a Portuguese court and that they had, by virtue of their long occupation of the hall, become its owners and were therefore demanding that the hall could not be sold,” said the spokesman.

“This will not prevent the sale and the other stakeholders decided to suspend the Lisbon Players’ right to receive a share of the sales receipt, and benefit from the right to remain in occupation until March 31, 2011.

The spokesman added: “The FCO recognises the importance of cultural organisations such as the Lisbon Players and values the contribution that the organisation has made to the British community in Lisbon.

“The FCO and the British ambassador in Portugal offered to help the Players to seek alternative premises from which to operate. However, they failed to pursue this with any vigour.”

Never informed

Johnathan Weightman, representing the Lisbon Players, told the Algarve Resident: “There has always been a doubt about the legitimate ownership of the land and the building, it being the preserve of a trust of a long defunct organisation, the British Protestant School.

“The British Embassy has stated that the ‘sale was not prevented’ and that the ‘other stakeholders decided to suspend the Lisbon Players’ right to receive a share of the sales receipt’ when in fact the Lisbon Players, as a stakeholder on the site, has never been informed of any such sale.”

The court case at Lisbon’s Central Court will continue on September 30.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]