Sunday 30 September 2018

Rue Morgue: the strange story of Barnet's missing Heritage Collection

An archival storage facility, in the age of outsourcing

Time now for a detour through one of the back lanes of Broken Barnet: a meandering stroll that in itself reveals, in grim metaphor, a larger story: the long history of betrayal, by Barnet Tories, of this borough, and this community. Yes, a wander along Rue Morgue.

This is the curious tale of the corporate heritage collection, which, as a Freedom of Information request now confirms, our hapless councillors gave to Capita for safeguarding and - well. Can you guess what happened next? 

Yes. It has mysteriously disappeared, without a trace.

(This FOI request has at least, unlike others over the last few months, not been delayed and obstructed by Barnet, on a variety of pretexts. The ICO has now told Barnet off for this, and further posts will explain why they are so reluctant to respond to two other particularly 'sensitive' requests ...)

The council had been rather keen to keep quiet about the following matter, but a number of Mrs Angry's network of spies have been in touch tell her about it, and to express their fury over what can only be seen yet another failure of duty to residents.

Barnet has now confirmed exactly who was tasked with the care of the heritage collection, or at least the building in which it was so carelessly stored:

The company responsible for securing the site as a whole was Ad Hoc Property Management, who were appointed by CSG Estates. (Yes, CSG being one of the two Capita contracts).

Is there a contract with this company, and has it been renewed, asked Mrs Angry?

Ad Hoc Property Management and other guardian / caretaker companies are periodically utilised by the council to provide guardians / caretakers to secure vacant assets but there is no overarching contract. Each occupancy arrangement is an individual agreement. Ad Hoc still have guardians in the Barnet Mortuary flats and also in the following additional premises:

1. 80 Dawes Lane 2. The Flightways Centre, the Concourse. 3. The Lodge (at the Mortuary site), 1 Dolman Close 4. Rosa Freedman Care Home, Claremont Way.

Barnet Mortuary Flats? More of this later. And: despite what has happened, Barnet seem happy to continue to use Ad Hoc. 

The 'artefacts', we were told, were not insured, but they are trying to get some sort of compensation. From whom, is not stated. Nor why it is taking so long.

In February, the matter was referred to the police. At the end of March, they concluded there was no evidence of criminal activity.  According to the FOI response: It was established that the items were disposed of as a result of human error.

Ah. Human error. Whose error, though? And then: a somewhat puzzling development. After police concluding no criminal activity, and it being established (by whom?) that the items had been accidentally disposed of, Barnet decided to launch an investigation by the Corporate Anti-fraud Team, CAFT. Why? 

This was in early April. But then: Following an investigation, no definitive information as to the location of the artefacts was established.

Dear me. What happened to it then? Not stolen, or - no proof of being stolen. Thrown in a skip? Apparently no line of investigation to follow: no audit trail. How odd.

Well then. 

Over the last few years we have seen our local heritage used by Tory members as yet another asset to take to market, or more opportunity for the predatory developers who circle the skies of Broken Barnet, looking for more and more profitable sites. At the same time, the privatisation of planning and enforcement, thrown in the lap of Capita Re, is enabling more and more development, and increasing the risk of harm to our legacy of historic buildings. 

We have seen so many of these buildings sold, like the Lodge in Victoria Park, demolished without warning, like the White Bear pub in Hendon, or lost through quietly re-arranged plans, like the National Medical Institute for Research in Mill Hill. (Below).

At the moment there are two more pubs of huge significance in terms of local history at risk from planning applications - the Midland in West Hendon, and the listed Railway Hotel in Edgware. The Midland * has been targeted for development - and the Railway *, after years of neglect, and no effective enforcement action, has a retrospective application for the location of a proposed car wash. No one seems able to confirm whether or not the listed interior features of the latter are still intact: which might well be reason to believe at least some of them may have been lost.

* See below at the bottom of the post for links to object to these applications.

Does it matter if these buildings disappear, or lose their historic features? Who cares? Well, I do, and I think most residents do too. Why does it matter? Because all of these properties tell the story of our borough, and of the people who have made it what it was. 

I've written a lot about the Lodge, which is near my home, and I've tried to lobby for better protection for the Railway Hotel, as I grew up in Edgware, and it is a part of my own past. I went to school next to the NIMR in Mill Hill, and was aghast to see it ripped apart, after being assured it was going to be retained and modified.

The Midland has its own story, as part of the coming of the railway in the nineteenth century - as well as serving the local community now, and providing a much needed venue for live music, here in the 21st century, as fellow blogger Roger Tichborne will tell you.

The Railway Hotel

The fabric of these buildings holds our history: but our local history holds little value in the estimation of our Tory councillors.

You may recall the scandalous closure, a few years ago, of the Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon -  the ransacking of its local collection, mostly donated over decades by residents. What wasn't thrown in a skip was sold off at auction. Tory Leader Richard Cornelius had said the collection was of no value. In fact it raised quite a lot of money: perhaps what he meant was - it was of no value to him.

Social history is of no consequence, in Broken Barnet. The story of ordinary people, and their daily lives, is of no interest. The only use for a museum is in terms of property value, and the potential for development. 

Worse still, a museum, like our library service, now effectively destroyed by the Barnet Tory war on culture, serves as a point of focus and information for the community, and reinforces a sense of identity: one which might interfere in the best interests of developers, and their profits. 

What remains of our corporate heritage? 

Not much.

Even the Town Hall has been pimped by its corporate owners: the civic function wrenched out of most of the building, much of the freed up space given over to Middx Uni to use as they wish, and some of it now available as, of all things, a wedding venue. Council meetings have been squeezed into smaller rooms, and even the Heritage Room is up for rent.

Ah. The Heritage Room. 

A room that holds a special place, in the history of Broken Barnet: the place where, forced out of the neighbouring committee room by a protest by residents, who sat in members' places around the table, our Tory councillors defiantly signed the Capita contracts, unread, and in the face of all reasonable arguments not to. Reasonable arguments that, five years later, they now realise they should not have ignored.

People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, taking a bow in the Heritage Room, Hendon Town Hall

This room was the sometime depository of the Mayoral bling so loved by our Tory members, who scheme and lobby all year round to take their turn at sitting on the throne of lies that is the centre of the council chamber of Broken Barnet, dressed up in the grubby velvet robe of office, trimmed with mangy fur - that looks as if might just be skinned from the carcasses of feral foxes scavenging among the now discarded waste food bins littering the borough.

Not just golden chains, and silver medals, the corporate bling. There is - or was - a wealth of other holdings, much of it commemorating the formation of the boroughs of Finchley, Hendon, and Chipping Barnet, in the 1930s, later combined as the dark entity that is now the London Borough of Barnet. 

The collection included a large number of gifts offered to the borough, since its inception, marking visits, or thanks for funds raised, or civic events and achievements - gifts from different faith groups and cultural associations - as well, of course, as presents donated to demonstrate the bonds of friendship with the towns around the world with which Barnet is twinned. 

Mrs Angry imagines that former Tory, former Mayor, and lover of all things bling, Brian Coleman, will be beside himself, reading about this ...

Because, as we now know - it's all gone. They lost it.

Given to Capita for safekeeping: and what did Capita do? Pass it over to another contractor, which then, displaying an admirable grasp of ironic justice, shoved the whole lot in a disused mortuary in Finchley - just across the road from Mrs Angry, as it happens. Perhaps it was some sort of gesture, from our colonial masters. A last offering to the gods of the underworld, to fend off the impending collapse of their last outpost.

As a part of the mass outsourcing contracts -  a lure added as as 'sweetener' late on in the tender process -  your Tory council handed over all the profit generating opportunities offered by Mrs Angry's dead grandmother, grandfather, great uncles, and cousins, at the former Hendon Crematorium to Capita. There is a lot of profit in death, but sadly the EasyCrem facility, with promised live streaming of funerals, fast tracked funerals, funeral dvds, & full catering for 'post life' functions - and discounted, pre-used graves for local bloggers - has proved to be less than successful and may well be taken back in house. There will no doubt be much rejoicing in heaven, if not in Capita HQ. 

What they were doing with the mortuary, however ... heaven only knows. 

When Mrs Angry first moved to her present home, it was hard not to notice,  on a regular basis, a disconcerting series of rather sinister dark transit vans, with revolving ventilators, always driven by two grim faced men in black, exiting on to Squires Lane from the side road opposite. It then transpired that, until recently, they were making regular 'deliveries' to - and presumably collections from - the council's mortuary at the end of Avondale Avenue, where post mortem examinations were made. 

This mortuary building, it seems, is where, once upon a time, the pioneer of forensic pathology, Bernard Spilsbury, examined the bodies of a number of famous victims of murder, such as Lord George Sanger, the circus owner, and Margaret Lloyd, one of the women killed by the 'Brides in the Bath' murderer - and even possibly (part of) the exhumed body of Mrs Crippen.

Bernard Spilsbury

A fitting place, then, to stash the last remains of our corporate heritage, now the building itself has been commandeered by Crapita.

And what was sent there?

In truth, the collection of items is, at first glance, unutterably banal. 

So banal, in fact, that by very nature the sequence of humble and sometimes rather bizarre listings has an air of poignancy: the sense of worthy citizens (as they once were) trying to do their civic duty, and build a feeling of pride in the newly formed boroughs.

Ephemera: a record of events whose significance is now largely forgotten: certificates, trophies, shields and badges, all marking some small achievement by people no one remembers; objects given as an expression of affirmation, marking the fleeting moments of someone's life: of the life of a community.

Relics of abandoned interests and former enterprises: clumsy but well meant gestures of goodwill, and encouragement.

Some of the contents, it must be said, are so absurd, it is hard not to laugh, sifting through the listing. 

Here are some favourites: most of these are supposed to have links to photos, but along with the items themselves, have disappeared, so we will have to use our imagination:

Item 7: a Top Hat, and box, dated 1878.

Item 11: a cartoon by Ken Pyne, to commemorate the opening of a new car park at Brent Cross, in 1996.

(Ken, of course, is a regular contributor to Private Eye, which takes a keen interest in the work of Barnet Tory councillors, and has given many a Rotten Borough award in recognition of their corporate folly).

Item 19:  a desk set presented to a Mayor in the 1970s. Tersely worded note added in 1996: 

 2 x pens put in Mayor’s Parlour to replace one that was lost/stolen during Cllr Palmer’s mayoral year.

(That would be Councillor, now Lord Palmer, a Libdem peer. And by implication, a 'collector' of municipal biros. Tssk. Surprised the former Chair of Audit wasn't investigated by the Corporate Anti Fraud Team, as they seem to have so much free time on their hands).

Item 26: a picture from 1906 of the Rev W Reason, former Chair (frame smashed). 

Item 75: a book of paintings by Paul McCartney (Note to thief: please keep, with my best wishes).

Item 242, a copy of the Freedom of the Borough given to Margaret Thatcher (Likewise).

Item 288: a gold crown from Korea, 24k gold, National Treasure #188. What?

Item 295: a box in which there is a pair of black gloves, scarves, fabric pin badges etc in red letters (for OP BRIDGE). 

(Oh. This puzzled Mrs Angry, until she realised it means - shhh, TOP SECRET - it is in reference to 'Operation London Bridge', which is what will happen when the Queen keels over, and our councillors will immediately rush to the Town Hall to put on black gloves, scarves, badges etc, and engage in national weeping, Korean style (see Item 288, which will be worn by the Dear Leader, Richard Cornelius).

Item 360: a pencil drawing of an owl. (Suspect this is wrongly catalogued, and is a portrait of the current Mayor, and serial library cutter, Cllr Tombstone).

Item 507: oh hang on - stand by, Brian, trigger warning: a large silver plate, in presentation case, from the Morphou Municipality, on the occasion of the designation of Brian Coleman as the Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Barnet, from the Mayor and Councillors of the occupied town of Morphou, 19th May 2009. 

(This is from the Old Days, when it was compulsory to worship Brian Coleman. Things have moved on since then). 

Item 568: a picture of The Bridge, Walsall - given to Cllr Finn by a visitor trying to meet every Mayor in the country. Listing explains, in case you were wondering, and of course it does help put things in perspective: The man was from Walsall.

Item 584a: a picture of former Chief Executive Max Caller - in a gold frame. Of course. 

Item 617: a picture entitled 'Ploughing', by David Shepherd - presumably not the David Shepherd, People's Mayor, seen above, pictured in the Heritage Room.

Item 621: a pencil drawing of Prince Phillip, from 1965.

Item 632: a nude female idol, Cypriot, 1400-1200 BC (note says it is a fertility 'ornament'). 

Item 643: Ah yes. A trophy, listed as 'returned' to silver fox, octagenarian Tory councillor John Hart, to commemorate the annual Petanque competition between Barnet and Chaville. 

12 and a half inches long, and in the shape of a tulip. (The trophy).

Returned to Cllr John Hart. 

Not the only councillor to have custody of some of this stuff. 

Several items are listed as being 'held' by one former Tory Councillor, Joan Scannell, who was so ruthlessly deselected by her fellow Tories in Edgware  - some Wedgwood jasperware, and bone china - and another currently serving member, Cllr Wendy Prentice, is stated as having custody of a curious selection of objects: an ash tray, a cat tray, (?) and a wooden deer in a box. 

Just as well they appear to have taken them home for their mantelpieces: they may well have preserved the last remaining items of the collection.

Oh: one other mention of a councillor's interest: 

Item 533: a boxed trowel, in silver, from a Regent Street goldsmith with a Royal Warrant, given by East Finchley library, in 1938.

Well, of course there used to be a lot of silver trowels, and a fair amount of trouser rolling, at the Town Hall, not so many years ago, when Tory councillors used to hold their Lodge meetings in one of the Committee rooms (source: Mrs Angry's brother, who used to work in what was then called Democratic Services, before they removed the Democratic bit, and then the Service). But these days there is no room in the Town Hall for that sort of fraternal mullarkey. 

And yes, that would be the East Finchley library that has lost staff, and space, and was going to be pimped to a 'Wannapreneur' business renting out desks, rather than provide study space to local children. Until library campaigners stepped in. Presumably the trowel, rather than a masonic one, was meant to mark the pride the community felt in laying the foundations of this beautiful, now listed building, so well loved by local residents. What would they have made of the council's current destruction of their work, and their library service?

A mysterious note says: Leader to Polish and relocate to the Heritage Room.

Of course Cllr Cornelius is a busy man, and one might have thought he had better things to do than spend time on buffing up a shine on selected items of corporate bling, but still: as a matter of public interest, Mrs Angry has made enquiries of the Mayor's secretary, to see if the Leader has been polishing his trowel.

No reply, as yet.

And apart from the more bizarre objects in the collection, there were items of genuine interest: boxes marked 'important documents', to do with the early years of the three boroughs; coats of arms, seals; memorabilia related to HMS Fantome, the minesweeper bought by the people of Friern Barnet in WW2, and also material to do with HMS Tartar, a naval vessel adopted by Barnet - endless sports awards, photographs of former Mayors, Town Clerks, long serving officers of the council. Numerous presents from Morphou, Le Raincy, Ramat Gan, Siegerland, Montclair, from Hindu, Sikh, and Bahai communities - a plate from the Neasden Mandir, one from my local Catholic church, even a video of Sathya Sai Baba. 

There is hardly a faith group or community group in the borough, in short, whose gifts have not been tossed aside, into the hands of our feckless contractors, in an act of corporate indifference that tells you ... everything you need to know about the state of Broken Barnet.

Many of these things represent something far more important than material value. 

Not just gestures of goodwill, or tokens of friendship - a recognition of the need to make connections, and build relationships. They are an acknowledgement of the need for inclusion and community: all the things current Barnet Tories think are so unimportant. 

By discarding them so casually, and so thoughtlessly, the council has turned its back on all of this, and demonstrated, with perfect clarity, the utter contempt it bears for the people of this borough, in all its diversity, and its history, as well as all the fragile relationships built over so many years with other communities both in the UK and the rest of the world. 

While the Corporate Anti-Fraud Team were busy not finding out what happened to the heritage collection handed over to Capita for safekeeping, as it happens, they were doing so only weeks after they were shown to have also missed a rather larger loss: the swindling of Barnet taxpayers by one of Capita's managers, to the tune of more than £2 million, over a year and a half, in the course of 62 incidences of fraud. 

There could perhaps be no more complete demonstration of the state we are in: our heritage collection in hoc to Ad Hoc, Ad Hoc left to their own devices by Capita, Capita left with open access to our money and our services, with an in house detective team that arguably couldn't solve a game of Cluedo, let alone spot the biggest act of corporate fraud this council has ever seen.

Barnet Tories have sold us, and our inheritance, body and soul, into bondage to Capita, let them to do exactly what they want, and now, like a bunch of impotent old men, are standing back and allowing them to believe they can still retain all the lucrative services they want. 

As reported by the BBC, the company maintain that the Grant Thornton report into the fraud case and its immediate implications presented a "limited and highly caveated review". They are not going to let go easily: they have too much to lose. 

In the meanwhile, they have us in their grip, another abandoned box of trophies shoved in the back of the mortuary. 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Broken Barnet, September 2018

* If you would like to object to the Railway Hotel planning application, please use this link:

* If you would like to object to the application regarding the Midland Hotel, use this link:


Gerrard Roots said...

Spot on!. Unbidden, an image came to mind of Brian Coleman presenting his lovely silver tray, in the manner of the chap (butler?//waiter?/defunct Barnet councillor?) on the old Kensitas cigarette packets.

Re Ad Hoc: this firm was in charge of the security of Church Farmhouse Museum for several years after its closure. One night, thieves dug up and removed some £2000 pounds- worth of old, high-quality York Stone flags from the path surrounding the Museum. Ad Hoc's'guardians' were completely unaware of this until I told them. Safe in their hands!

Ad Hoc's slogan is: 'Living the Ad Hoc way'. Perhaps it's an ideal text to put up above the door of Barnet mortuary.

Mrs Angry said...

Hello Gerrard: yes, very worrying that the council allows its contractors to sub contract to 'guardian' style arrangements rather than provide security. Still, more use for them in the libraries, I suppose.

I have to say I am deeply upset by the loss of the Mayor's biro, and the portrait of Cllr Tombstone.

Anonymous said...

I think we should start a borough wide collection to replace the loss of Cllr Tombstones portrait as the loss of the original is a loss to the nation let alone our borough ! An artist of international standing should be appointed. ! Perhaps a new committee should be formed. If an artist of world standing cannot be engaged, then perhaps a sculpture, it could be placed on the front of the Town Hall Nude could be an option.

Mrs Angry said...

An excellent idea, Anonymous. I am moved by your suggestion. Few have contributed to the cultural life of our borough in the way that Cllr Tombstone has done, and there should indeed be a suitable form of recognition.

I think in many ways the sculpture thrusting out of the bushes next to the Town Hall encapsulates many of my own thoughts on this subject, however. Bold, upright, and challenging, in shape and form. Not dissimilar to the trophy awarded to Cllr Hart, in fact.