Dame Barbara and Cllr John

I never met Dame Barbara Mills – but thoughts are with her family after her death from a stroke last weekend.

Her husband John, the former Labour councillor of three decades in Camden, whether you agreed with what he did at the Town Hall or not, never hid from the press. He is a classic example of somebody who got a good response from the press because he was willing to speak openly and frankly with journalists. All, without betraying confidants. Only last Monday, John spoke at Eric Gordon’s 80th birthday party about the importance of good local papers and his lament for the times when Camden Council has in the past pulled up the drawbridge and thrown down the portcullis on the Camden New Journal and others in years gone by. The time the council banned the newspaper from libraries because it didn’t like the tone of articles it published is still a source of irritation for him, even though the CNJ, or its readers, sometimes criticised what he was doing.

He said that his wife was ill that night at the Forge last Monday but none of us realised the severity as he left. He was proud of his wife, who became the first female Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1990s. In fact, I remember vividly a night when he upset a room full of people in defence of his soulmate. The Gospel Oak branch of the Labour Party had organised a screening of Injustice!, Ken Fero’s film about deaths in police custody. It criticised Dame Barbara for not pursuing more cases against police officers. It’s an emotive but campaigning film which asks serious questions about the way some of the deaths were handled.

John watched the film among his Labour colleagues and then rose to his feet to defend his wife in the question and answer session that followed. “Most of these incidents took place late at night in the dark. Mostly what happened was that violence was generated, I’m sure, on both sides,” he said. “I am sure police overreacted but there was a lot of violence on both sides. I have to say that I really do resent the charge in that film that the whole thing is a matter of political bias. When you get the full details and see exactly what violence there was and how dark it was – it was two o’clock in the morning, half the people were drunk and all the rest of it – it was just impossible to get convictions. You had jury after jury who slung out the cases and refused to convict polic oficers concerned.”

The whole room seemed against him that night. There were relatives there of those who had died. Raj Chada, who had organised the screening, gulped. John stuck to his argument. Other people might have kept schtum, slunk off and harboured a grudge about it all, and for his contribution he was called ‘insensitive’. It made a story in the New Journal, but later I thought he had been loyal to his wife and brave for tackling a two-sided debate head on even if, as he said, he had a ‘personal interest’.

* Dan Carrier files a full obituary and tributes section to Dame Barbara in today’s paper.

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