A CITY leader has threatened to tear up a £15 million contract with a company removing seafront lights after an Argus investigation found two historic lanterns for sale on Facebook.

On Saturday, The Argus revealed the moment Brighton and Hove City Council officers seized seafront lanterns from a man in Hangleton who was attempting to flog them to our reporters.

This followed contractor Colas removing 20 of the heritage lanterns after they were found to pose a safety risk. They were given instructions to try to preserve the original materials.

READ MORE: Investigation - Man tries to sell Brighton seafront lights on Facebook

Following The Argus's investigation, a furious letter was sent to Colas by Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty.

In his scathing letter, he described the incident as "unforgivable, inexcusable neglect" and demanded an urgent investigation and a public apology.

The Argus:

The Facebook advert 

The council is conducting its own investigation and said criminal proceedings may follow depending on the outcome. 

People in Brighton have demanded an explanation as to how pieces of the city’s history ended up for sale online and what has happened to the dozens of other lanterns which were removed.

In the letter, Cllr Mac Cafferty said: "I have been horrified that two of Brighton and Hove’s historic seafront lamps ended up on Facebook for sale.

"This is our city’s property and deserves the utmost care and attention from your company while you handle it - sadly missing with the work to temporarily remove the lamps.

"This is despite clear instructions not only being issued to Colas to remove and store the seafront lanterns safely. Instructions which were understood and confirmed by your Colas employees.

"I would like to know what Colas has done to urgently investigate and rectify what has happened.

"I would like to understand what assurances you will give me that the measures you will put in place to ensure this won’t happen again and why I shouldn’t be asking council officials to explore ending the Colas contract with the city.

"I would also like you personally to commit to making a public apology to the city, with assurances this won’t happen again."


Last week, The Argus phoned the seller, pretending to be a heritage enthusiast who wanted the pieces of history for his garden.

The Argus:

The Argus captured the moment the lights were seized from the seller 

He said he only had two to sell as the others "were being sold to a private buyer".

Colas told The Argus all the other lights were being stored safely, although they did not provide evidence of this.

The council has also asked for this evidence as it conducts its own investigation - with the potential of starting criminal proceedings depending on its outcome.

The city has a long-standing relationship with Colas going back to 2005.

READ MORE: Investigation - Man tries to sell Brighton seafront lights on Facebook

A four-year contract signed in 2018 is worth approximately £15 million.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: "I have written to the contractor Colas to express my anger and demanded they urgently investigate the circumstances which led to this happening.

"I am also asking that they issue a public apology to the residents of the city with assurances that something like this never happens again.

The Argus:

"Our seafront heritage is part of what makes Brighton and Hove the city we love and to see it treated this way is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman added: "We have logged the incident with Sussex Police as a civil dispute. We will update them following the outcome of an internal investigation.

READ MORE: Investigation - Man tries to sell Brighton seafront lights on Facebook

"We have been assured by Colas that the other lanterns are being stored safely for inspection by Historic England but we have asked them to evidence this urgently."

Colas has been approached for comment in response to the letter.

The Argus asked the company:

  • Can you explain how the historic lights ended up in the hands of a Facebook seller?
  • Can you provide evidence you still have the other lights removed from the seafront? 
  • Can you confirm whether you have all the cast iron elaborate tops with the Brighton's coat of arms? (valued at £3,000 each by a historian)
  • How many – and which – items have gone missing while working for Brighton and Hove City Council?

A spokeswoman responded: "Colas Ltd is working closely with our client, Brighton & Hove City Council with regard the recovery of the two missing seafront lanterns.

"As per the previous statement from Brighton & Hove City Council, all other removed lanterns are securely stored. Our internal investigation is ongoing and the conclusion will be presented to the Council."