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The Mail: Grade II listed bigots

November 9, 2010

Another day, another headline (which has since been changed, and upgraded from a Daily Mail Reporter byline to that of David Wilkes).

The Mail headline writer has managed to avoid the ‘single mum’ tag the paper used last time they reported on this arrangement, back in 2008.

When I look at these two headlines, the thing I find most shocking is the £500,000 rise in the alleged value of this historic lodge.  Half a million pounds in two years?  The housing market is surely out of control.  Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post, so let’s move past the shocking outrage of runaway house prices and look more deeply into what has upset The Mail so much this time.

But it is, in fact, a council house – the most expensive in Britain – and a single mother has been living there rent-free for two years.

Ah, there’s the single mother reference that was missing from the headline.  I’m at a loss as to how this can be the most expensive council house in Britain, since Camden Council own it, and it was gifted to them so didn’t cost them anything to buy, as confirmed in this Daily Telegraph article from 2008 on the same subject.

The park and buildings were gifted to the public in 1889 as a “garden for the gardenless” by the Lord Mayor of London.

Surely it’s among the cheapest council houses in Britain – it cost Camden £0 to buy, and it’s now costing £0 in housing benefit payments (although there’s nothing in The Mail to say whether the tenant concerned is in receipt of any benefits or not, so no-one can make assumptions about her based on the ‘benefit scrounger’ narrative this paper is so fond of).

Speaking of benefits, the story last night contained a lot of detail on the amount Camden is paying out in housing benefit every year, and dropped in talk of reforms and the new caps proposed recently by the government.  Sensibly, David Wilkes has dropped this irrelevant nonsense from his version.

The latest story claims that Ruth Ben-Adir was moved to the lodge so she wouldn’t be disturbed by local building works.

Ruth Ben-Adir, 46, moved into the three-bedroom property with her son Kingsley, 24, after town hall officials decided that the refurbishment of a sports centre next to their home in Kentish Town, north London, would disturb them.

Strangely, if you read the story from two years ago, it says;

The mother-of-one moved into the Grade II-listed building while repairs are being carried out on her council home in Kentish Town.

There is a glaring inconsistency between these two reports.  Did the council move the family because of refurbishment of a leisure centre that might disturb them, or was it because repairs were being carried out to their home?  Generic Daily Mail Reporter, and latterly David Wilkes, obviously forgot to fact check this detail.

The Mail then goes on to detail the possible neighbours Mrs Ben-Adir rubs shoulders with (‘neighbours include George Michael and Sting), and claims that the house ‘could fetch up to £2,000 a week if rented out – meaning their stay would have cost £208,000 if they had had to pay’.  This is a much larger estimate of hypothetical rent than claimed in the unedited version by Generic Daily Mail Reporter: ‘It’s thought the house could fetch £100,000 rent per year if rented out on the private market.’ I’m not sure why the private rental value of the lodge has increased by £8,000 overnight.  David Wilkes must have insider info.  [Thanks to Jonnyhotrod for pointing out the error in my previous calculations]

Still, if The Mail thinks it would rent for £208,000, it must be a luxurious mansion.  From the 2008 story:

The property, designed by architect James Pennethorne, was home to the park’s gardeners, but more recently has been used for storage despite extensive renovation work.

The Telegraph story, referenced above, expands slightly on the details of the lodge being used as a storage area:

The three-bedroom house was designed by architect James Pennethorne, who helped create Parliament.

It became home to the park’s gardeners, but has been used for storage for the past ten years despite renovation work.

So, prior to Mrs Ben-Adir being temporarily rehoused while her house was refurbished/a leisure centre was refurbished/her house entered use as a site office (more on that later), the lodge was a big shed.  If the Mail wanted to be outraged by something, I’d have thought the use of a £2 million/£2.5 million house as a storage shed might have been slightly more appropriate, particularly as money has been spent renovating it.

Let’s find out what’s really annoyed The Mail.

The work finished three months ago, but the family is still living in The Lodge in Waterlow Park, in the Highgate village area in the north of the capital.

The family isn’t paying rent on the house – nor on their original home, where Mrs Ben-Adir is the registered tenant.

Shocking.  Three months down the line, and the council haven’t turfed Mrs Ben-Adir out yet (despite The Mails’ clear inference that she was never worthy of such a house in the first place), and she hasn’t been paying rent on either property.  Why could that be?  A council spokesman is quoted in this story as saying:

‘As a cheaper alternative to funding central London hotel accommodation for two years, the council arranged for Mrs Ben-Adir to be moved on a temporary basis.

Mrs Ben-Adir’s property in Kentish Town was used by contractors as a site office following the re-opening of the sports centre. They vacated last week and the tenant will be expected to return as soon as possible.’

This is subtly different to the quote in the earlier, untweaked version of the story, which didn’t mention a sports centre, and said:

The Kentish Town home had been used by contractors during the building work and then as a site office.

A spokesman for the council said: ‘They vacated last week. We will now undertake works to bring the property up to standard and the tenant will be expected to return as soon as possible.’

I’m interested to find out the truth behind the inconsistencies scattered throughout this story, and will be emailing Camden Council to find out, directly from them, their take on the situation.

How can The Mail disapprove of a council trying to save money by bringing what was a building used for storage into use as temporary accomodation, costing ‘the taxpayer’ absolutely nothing either in purchase price or housing benefit payments, while a tenants’ house was being renovated (or while a leisure centre was being renovated, whichever version you believe) and was subsequently used as a site office?  When councils undertake major works on homes, they have a duty to make sure the tenant is suitably housed, and it seems Camden Council found the most cost effective way to do this.  One can only imagine the spluttering, horrified fury The Mail could have been provoked into had this council put Mrs Ben-Adir up in a hotel.

Why is The Mail complaining that Mrs Ben-Adir is still staying in the lodge when it’s perfectly clear her home isn’t up to standard for her to move back into?  It’s written in their own story that her original home was in use as a site office until last week.  The whole story is built on the flimsiest of pretexts – that Mrs Ben-Adir, a hated-by-the-Daily-Mail single mother,  is funded by ‘the taxpayer’ to live in luxury (taxpayer funded to the princely tune of, er, £0).  There are inconsistencies between this article and the one from 2008 (more pronounced yesterday when one claimed she was a mother of two, but the other said she was a mother of one).  It’s a nothing story, only published to fulfil The Mail single mother/benefit scrounger/taxpayer funded bigotry quota for the day.

I’ll update this if Camden Council reply, and will leave you with a small insight into the sheer intrusiveness displayed by this style of jounalism.  This link takes you to the London Media page where The Mail bought it’s pictures.  With increased targetting of ordinary people now considered ‘public interest’ stories by the press, those shots of Mrs Ben Adir going about her daily business on the London Media link, taken in 2008, could just as easily be you, or me.  Creepy thought.

***UPDATE*** Please see The Mail: Grade II listed bigots update from Camden Council

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonnyhotrod permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:30 pm

    I love the article, and your battling of the idiocy and incendiary tossers. I was wondering, though, if the £208k referred to 2 years rent, and so there might be no mistake, in that bit anyway…

    • November 9, 2010 6:35 pm

      I think you could be right, although there’s still an £8,000 discrepancy between the two figures. *editing now* Thanks for the help. 🙂

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  1. The Mail: Grade II listed bigots update from Camden Council « Press Not Sorry

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