Momart fire

Artists sue Momart for £20 million

Solicitors say premises were “a disaster waiting to happen”

Over 50 artists, galleries and collectors are suing the art storage and shipping company Momart, following the disastrous fire in their East London warehouse on 24 May 2004. Total claims are expected to amount to around £20 million.

The blaze, which was caused by arson, totally destroyed Momart’s premises on the Cromwell Industrial Estate. As our inquiries suggested after the fire, the warehouse was poorly located. Adjacent to the art store and under the same roof, were 33 other smaller facilities, including car repair workshops and storerooms with gas canisters.

Jonathan Wood of Clyde & Co, solicitors acting for the largest claim, describes it as “a disaster waiting to happen”. He explained: “The premises were wholly unsuitable as a storage location for high value fine art. For example, the premises were located amongst other units where there was a high risk of fire; the building itself was not constructed so as to prevent the rapid spread of fire; coupled with this was the inadequate security and fire detection provisions.”

Among those claiming through Clyde & Co are: Damien Hirst, Gillian Ayres, Shirley Conran (collector of work by Ayres), Barry Flanagan, Katherine and Susanna Heron (daughters of Patrick Heron), David Notarius (husband of the late Helen Chadwick), Leslie Waddington, Bernard Jacobson, Ivor Braka, Michael Hue-Williams, Dave Stewart (musician/collector) and the Royal Academy. This claim is for up to £15 million.

A separate claim, for several million pounds, is being made by Bill Perry of Charles Russell solicitors. Claimants include Axa Art Insurance, Victoria Miro, Anthony d’Offay, Anthony Reynolds, Faggionato, Sadie Coles, Saatchi & Saatchi Group, Janet de Botton and the Zurich-based Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art Foundation.

The one big name missing from the two claims is Charles Saatchi (his personal collection is separate from the Saatchi & Saatchi claim). Mr Saatchi lost over 140 works in the fire. Mr Saatchi reportedly accepted a £10 million settlement from his insurers late last year.

Last month, Momart issued a brief statement: “The fire was a tragedy for those of Momart’s customers who were affected, and for Momart. However, it must be borne in mind that it was caused by arson in an adjacent warehouse. Given that High Court proceedings have been commenced, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on the legal issues, but it should suffice to say that all claims against Momart will be defended vigorously.” The case is expected to be heard next year.