Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Camden New Journal - by PAUL KEILTHY
Published: 21 February 2008
The Camden Council vehicle that was used to empty Dorothy Robinson's home
The Camden Council vehicle that was used to empty Dorothy Robinson’s home
Flat clearances 'systematic theft from dead residents'

Town Hall staff were cleared by bosses to take from ‘void’ homes

THE removal of valuable possessions from the homes of council tenants was branded “systematic theft from dead Camden residents” when a secret Town Hall report was finally disclosed on Tuesday following months of campaigning by councillors and the New Journal.
A year after this newspaper’s investigation into the clearance of the Gospel Oak flat of dying Dorothy Robinson, 92, prompted allegations that her home had been “looted” by council clearance teams and re­vealed that nothing of value had been recovered from the 1,200 council houses similarly cleared every year, councillors called for “heads to roll”.
The report by the council’s internal audit team revealed for the first time that items were routinely taken by members of the Building and Maintenance Division during clearances of properties that became “void” through the abandonment, death, eviction or relocation of tenants, and that this practice was authorised by managers.
It included evidence that 60 staff may have been involved, and that managers obstructed the investigation of the council’s internal team.
It went on to claim the New Journal probe into the abuses had “damaged” and “undermined” the council’s own clandestine investigation, an accusation supported by officers and social care chief Cllr Martin Davies.
Other councillors attacked the claims. “This would never have seen the light had it not been published in the CNJ,” said Cllr Keith Sedgwick.
Although two members of BMD staff face disciplinary charges, the evidence that the practice was widespread and condoned was described as “scandalous” by committee chairman Chris Philp, who forced the disclosure of the report after Town Hall lawyers repeatedly blocked its discussion since he first requested it in September last year.
He said: “This report shows that council staff had been systematically stealing property from dead Camden residents for years. It is totally outrageous. I think that it is good my committee has brought this investigation into the public domain to show that these practices will not be tolerated by Camden Council today.”
In a meeting where tension between the council’s staff and elected councillors frequently threatened to bubble over, assistant chief executive Philip Colligan acknowledged that the conduct of house clearances had been deeply flawed and that wide-ranging changes had been put in place.
Pressed on whether the clearances amounted to stealing, he answered: “I am not saying it is not theft.”
He added that discuss­ing the report in public was dangerous and unprecedented and could jeopardise ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
He said: “There have been suggestions that officers wanted to cover up elements of that report. That is not true. We now have an unprec­edented release of internal audit material to you, way beyond what we have considered as normal and way beyond what we have advised to you.”
But his comments were questioned by Cllr Sedgwick, who referred to the first, highly selective, report shown to the committee last year. He said: “When we had this report before us originally there was nothing in it which said managers had told their staff they could take things from dead people’s homes – it only comes out in a report that we had to squeeze out of officers. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it’s theft. This is to do with the culture of management of housing. This is shocking. Quite frankly someone’s head should be rolling – someone very high up.”
Cllr Philp asked: “Is there any evidence that a director or assistant director knew about these practices or authorised it?”
Mr Colligan replied: “I can’t answer your question about who knew about what.”
The questioning promp­ted protest from several committee members and led the elected chiefs of both housing and adult social care to make highly unusual formal statements of confidence in the council’s highest managers.
Social care chief Cllr Martin Davies said: “I am confident that none of the directors or assistant directors had knowledge of or condoned in any way the particular issues here.”

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)







Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions