THE now-defunct Lewisham Racial Equality Council failed to apply for crucial annual funding which led to its downfall after three decades, it has been claimed.

It relied on a £74,000 grant from Lewisham Council to keep the high street operation running but this year's application never turned up.

LREC, which had six staff, closed on Friday after councillors decided not to renew the grant and began looking for a replacement organisation.

Staff claim the bid was submitted late and the decision to stop funding was made despite the application issue.

They have threatened legal action against councillors, claiming they failed to take necessary steps to save the organisation.

The council has consulted the national Commission for Racial Equality, which gave £43,000 to LREC last year, about an alternative set-up.

The local authority had five councillors on the LREC management committee who resigned before the closure.

After the funding decision, social inclusion deputy Councillor Mee Ling Ng said the council was committed to race-relations organisations, but they had to be “well run and properly managed”.

Furious LREC workers said they could not continue without their main source of income and announced last week they were being forced to shut with 600 cases still ongoing.

But a council spokesman said: “Lewisham Council has money available which it spends each year for race services.

“Local groups are invited and are able to bid for a pool of that money and for many years now LREC have bid.

“This year they failed to put in for a bid which we found strange.

“We wrote to them and reminded them they had not put in a bid and received nothing back in writing. We invited them to a meeting and received no response.”

Commission for Racial Equality spokesman Chris Myant said: “Our priority is to make sure there is provision for race-equality work in Lewisham. Here we are presented with a decision by our joint core funder to withdraw their funding.

“We are having discussions with them to work out what may happen.”

LREC's anti-racial harassment and education co-ordinator Simon de Banya said: “The funding application did go in late, on that they are telling the truth. Late applications had gone in before.

“It was made quite clear even if the application had gone in, they were going to refuse it.”