SILENCE OF THE LAMBETHS

There’s a funeral taking place at West Norwood cemetery this Friday (23rd) to which you are all invited.

David Coad was 81. He lived in Chestnut Road, West Norwood. His body lay undiscovered for three weeks until a concerned nieghbour called police.

Before the death certificate had even been signed Lambeth council moved in and cleared the entire house.

A post on Facebook summed up the family’s anger with Lambeth council:

Caroline Mountain (Mr Boad’s niece) is feeling broken.
 
20 January at 13:18 Devastated with Lambeth Councils actions.
 
My uncle was found by the police last Wednesday (10/01) he lived on Chestnut Road for roughly 70 years, we were informed that evening at 7.30pm. Phone calls to the coroner, police, Lambeth Council began from 11th Jan.
 
He isn’t even officially dead yet as even registering his death has been a battle, nor has anyone identified the body BUT two days after being found Lambeth council have entered his property on the 15th January and thrown 70 years of memories & life in the bin, even the carpets have gone.
 
When did any council work this fast???
 
They have followed no legal protocol. All that is left of him is a plastic bag with his wallet & watch at Brixton police station Devasted doesn’t even begin to describe how we feel.
 
Lambeth council admitted fault yesterday and said we’d be entitled to compensation. Seriously, will that bring back my family’s history and memories? Grandad had the house 1st, David served in the RAF & my dad in the Navy – all those memories/photos tossed in the bin.
 
How do we even start to deal with his finances, what do we bury him in??
 
Totally gutted, there’s no way we’ll let them get away with this. If anyone can offer advice, it’ll be much appreciated, I’ll be contacting newspapers & solicitor on Monday.

News From Crystal Palace became aware of this story towards the end of January via local Green party members.

On January 25th News From Crystal Palace sent an email to Lambeth council’s communications team (also known as the press office) asking for a comment on the Facebook posting. We cc’d the email to Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite who is the cabinet member for housing.

We also asked:

How did this happen?

How was it allowed to happen?

Has anything like this ever happened before in Lambeth council?

No reply was forthcoming from either the ‘communications’ team or Cllr Brathwaite and none has, at the time of publication of this opinion piece, been received.

But on January 31st a statement from Lambeth’s interim chief executive Andrew Travers DID appear in a story about Mr Boad’s case in both The Mirror and on the Daily Mail’s online website.

The headlines on the two stories were:

Bungling council threw away lifetime’s memories from dead RAF veteran’s home thinking he had no next of kin by Emily Hall, Daily Mirror, January 31st; and

Bungling council clean out RAF veteran’s home he lived in for more than 70 years just five days after he died and throw his entire lifetime’s memories in a skip By Amie Gordon For Mailonline Published: 10:31, 31 January 2018  | Updated: 11:53, 31 January 2018

The same statement from Mr Travers appeared on both websites:

“We send our condolences to Mr Boad’s bereaved family.

“We mistakenly believed that there were no next of kin, and apologise to relatives that further checks were not made.

“We are now reviewing our procedures to ensure further checks to locate next of kin are carried out in future.

“We have offered to meet the family and apologise in person and we will work with the family to ensure, as best as we can, that the situation is resolved to their satisfaction.”

News From Crystal Palace emailed Mr Travers on February 13th to confirm the statement. Again no reply has been forthcoming.

Some of the Labour element on Lambeth council don’t like News From Crystal Palace. Back in December we attended the cabinet and council meetings held at Kennington Oval cricket ground at which issues involving the survivors of child abuse in Shirley Oaks and other Lambeth council children’s homes were discussed.

The cabinet meeting was followed by a council meeting which the Mayor of Lambeth Cllr Marcia Cameron abandoned – and then re-opened behind closed doors.

News From Crystal Palace has previously reported that it was only through the intervention of an opposition councillor that we were allowed in.

News From Crystal Palace now understands that at least one council officer – NOT the interim chief executive – argued against this reporter’s presence at the behind-closed-doors part of the meeting simply because he did not like what I write.

That is not only utterly outrageous it is also highly dangerous and should have been jumped on by Labour councillors then and there. (News From Crystal Palace has yet to establish if anything was said – or done). The press are the eyes and ears of the people. If you get a chance to see the film ‘The Post’ starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep then you’ll see what I mean.

Without us: No Watergate scandal uncovered, no uncovering of financial scandals or the Parliamentary expenses scandal, no uncovering of certain famous peoples alleged misbehaviour. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Back in July last year in the wake of the People’s Audit Lambeth report – which  issued a damning report on Lambeth council that found evidence of extensive financial mismanagement and a systemic lack of financial governance costing millions of pounds of public money – we sent 101 questions based on that report to each Lambeth council cabinet member.

Not one reply, not one acknowledgement.

It wasn’t the first time News From Crystal Palace had no response from cabinet members.

Back in June 2015 when Gipsy Hill ward Cllr Matthew Bennett was cabinet member for housing News From Crystal Palace asked if he had any comment to make on a piece headed: Cllr Bennett and the mystery of the financial models…which had been posted on 22nd May 2015 by Save Central Hill Community (Central Hill being one of the six estates across the borough which Lambeth wants to demolish). No reply.

On January 25th last year there was an article in Private Eye magazine which alleged documents from the Lambeth child abuse investigation surrounding Shirley Oaks and other children’s homes had been destroyed as recently as 2009. Again we asked for a comment from the press office.  No reply.

We emailed the press office on January 25 last year: “Today’s Private Eye magazine (Inauguration issue on cover) has article on page 37 about second Shirley Oaks Survivors Association report. (right hand column headed Stephenson’s Rocket).

“Article states some documents were destroyed as recently as 2009. Would Lambeth have any comment on this or other aspects of the article please?” No reply.

Getting no reply we emailed both Lambeth council’s leader Cllr Lib Peck and Cllr Jane Edbrooke (whose current title is cabinet member for children and schools): “The following was emailed to your press office a fortnight ago. No reply so far – would either of you have any comments to make on the article please?.” Again, no reply.

In fairness when we asked the press office about a UNISON communique which advised staff not to work at Carnegie library, Herne Hill and which we cc’d to the cabinet member for culture Cllr Sonia Winifred she did reply – and her reply was longer than the somewhat terse response we got from the communications team.

It’s not just some of the Lambeth Labour lot who don’t like what we report.

Neither, it appears, do the communications team aka press office which in most councils is answerable to the chief executive.

Lambeth’s ‘communications’ team don’t like answering even the simpler questions from News From Crystal Palace – such as confirming which Andrew Travers was lined up as interim chief executive or the location (roughly) of the estate where a very lucky cat called O’Malley survived being placed in a rubbish bin.

When contacting other councils in the area News From Crystal Palace finds it usually gets replies from the press offices of the four other boroughs which are in, or border, the Crystal Palace area.

Here’s two recent questions we sent to all five council press offices: “In the wake of the recent National Audit office report on PFI (private finance initiative) contracts, please could you let me know what current PFI contracts the council have, at what cost and over what period of time?.

Bromley council’s press office said that to the best of their knowledge the council did not have any PFI contracts. Croydon council and Lewisham council’s  press offices said they did not have the time to research the request and suggested we make Freedom of Information requests.

And Southwark told us: “All information on PFIs in publicly available on our annual statement of accounts http://www.southwark.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/key-documents/statement-of-accounts . “I think from around page 65 is where you are after.” Lambeth? No reply.

In the wake of the announcement that police forces in boroughs would merge both Croydon and Lewisham had already issued press releases on the subject. We then asked Bromley, Southwark and Lambeth’s press offices for responses. Bromley came back with a statement, Southwark were not initially aware of the Mayor’s announcement and are checking this week. Lambeth? No reply.

Lambeth council recently announced plans to spend an extra £1 million on communications each year over the next three years. (It’s not yet clear what sort of communications these would be).

The Conservative opposition’s alternative budget due to be considered – and rejected by the Labour lot – at tonight’s (Wednesday) council meeting suggests reducing the communications team to just two press and publicity officers.

If the council’s communications team are not going to do the job the ratepayers pay them for then perhaps Lambeth council should close the whole thing down immediately.

Reporters are trained, and try, to be impartial. Lambeth’s attitude of not responding to questions – or siege mentality as the council’s Green party Cllr Scott Ainslie has called it – is getting them nowhere. They are not a private limited company who just have to answer questions from shareholders at an annual meeting.

And if Lambeth are not prepared to answer the questions News From Crystal Palace puts, then the pond life (or electorate as political parties call them when they want their votes) will start to draw their own conclusions.

At the beginning of this opinion piece I mentioned the funeral of Mr David Boad. The service at West Norwood starts at 11.45am. David’s family would like you to attend even if you didn’t know him.

They say: “We are a small family, so please, if anyone would like to attend, you’d be more than welcome.”

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