5 days to go…
IT was victory in the High Court yesterday for campaigners fighting the ‘cab rank’ policy at our coroner’s court; i.e cases being dealt with on a first come, first served basis regardless of the religious needs of the Muslim and Jewish faiths which require quick burials. This was ruled unlawful, and St Pancras coroner Mary Hassell has been asked to draft a new prioritisation policy. In the meantime, Labour cabinet councillor Abdul Hai has been praised by his party colleagues and beyond for forcing the issue and helping to stitch together a powerful campaign.
The frustration for those who felt aggrieved by Ms Hassell’s queuing policy had been barely concealed as the stand-off continued over many months, and Cllr Hai had dropped normal diplomatic language in January when he baldly told her to go and work in another area. After the judgement yesterday, there were new calls for Ms Hassell to resign from the post, although not from Cllr Hai, who seemed to at least want her to have her a chance to come up with a new procedure.
Politics (and journalism) has a culture of calling for resignations, almost as if we are talking about football managers who have lost a few matches on the trot. Of course, when a football manager gets fired, they seem to get a massive pay-off and then turn up at another club a couple of months later, but it’s not always so simple in other occupations.
As much as that anger and resentment must exist among those who feel angry that this battle had to be fought in the first place, let alone about how long it has taken to resolve, it might be worth considering what came before Ms Hassell’s appointment at St Pancras. Her main predecessor was Dr Andrew Reid, who was suspended after hiring his own wife to be his deputy. It turned out she did not have the right qualifications and several inquests had to be reheard, adding to the distress of the families. Go back further and you find Dr Stephen Chan in charge. In 2002, he oversaw a 15 inquest of a woman found dead in a locked flat in Camden Town with a bludgeon wound and a bite mark and recorded a verdict of natural causes. Sally White had actually been killed by Anthony Hardy, the so-called Camden Ripper serial killer, who. freed from any charge or further investigation, went on to murder at least two more women. Dr Chan has not been accused of failing to do the job properly, but surely it would’ve been interesting to hear his thoughts at the inquiry into why Hardy was not stopped earlier. He was not called, he had left the court.
These past issues at the courthouse add to the arguments of anybody who believes the 300-year-old, slightly mysterious, surely archaic coroner system is in need of some form of a reform. Individual coroners have immense powers, probably part of the reason Ms Hassell has ended up where she has. It’s no so long ago that, despite the modern tech world we live in, notice of upcoming inquests were provided solely by a note on the court’s iron gates.
When they do take place, however, Ms Hassell’s inquests have by most accounts been soundly probing and she has often challenged authorities to be better after investigating the circumstances of people who have died in uncomfortable and possibly preventable circumstances. When the fury has subsided, and nobody is belittling why that fury grew, maybe Ms Hassell should be given a chance to redraw her rules, in partnership with faith leaders and the council now, before she is chased out of the door.
THE battle for Swiss Cottage was apparently full blown today, it being the last Saturday before polling day and a time when people with day jobs can join the canvassing operation. Residents reported that Conservative and Labour door-knockers were visiting them within a half hour of each other on some streets. As we reported in the CNJ on Thursday, the Tories believe they can hold all three seats here, as long as they can ‘get the vote out’ by making sure that natural supporters do not take small sample local elections for granted. Behind the scenes, some Conservatives also have a hope that votes for the Lib Dems in this ward are more likely to water down the Labour score than theirs. Every vote could count, as Labour think they too have enough “promises” to gain seats here but again actual turnout will be key.
THE PERFECT PURDAH
THE mystery of Angela Rayner’s secret, not-so-secret visit to Highgate yesterday thickens with press releases and quick corrections about the details of the event arriving in the inbox. Could the half-hearted secrecy surrounding the shadow education secretary’s visit at the doors of William Ellis Secondary School be related to purdah rules? And what of reports that sympathetic teaching staff may have popped in on this red poster-waving mini-rally? That would be a sensitive point with the Conservatives, whose Swiss Cottage candidate Calvin Robinson went viral in the press last year when he made comments about the “lefty” sentiment he had found in school staffrooms during his own teaching career.
ONE LAST LOOK AROUND THE OLD PLACE
THE long-serving Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear (who might have been an MP in Finchley and Golders Green had results in been just a squeaky bit kinder to him in 2005) snuck back to the Town Hall to pick up the last of his things, joined by Siobhan Baillie. They are both stepping down as councillors. Whether you agree with them or not, they both put in a good shift. I wonder if they’ll miss the old place.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS A SLAMMED DOOR…
AS mentioned yesterday, Labour canvassers who feel they have done everything they can to join the fight against anti-semitism, and in fact any other sort of prejudice, are feeling beleaguered by some of the reactions on the doorstep. In neighbouring Haringey, this clip is being shared, showing what can happen if you turn up with a red leaflet. Upset Labour organisers say singing and laughing trivialises the issue, but the tweet has been shared and backed by many who say the party must be made to realise the scale of frustration by any means necessary.
LIB Dem councillor Flick Rea tweets her own flashback, winding back 12 years to the Liberal Democrats emerging as the largest party in Camden, describing it as ‘happy days’. We had assumed the council would not be so impatient to count through the night when we talked about doing a stop press edition next week, and as a Friday afternoon count would be too late even for our deadline-bending printers, there isn’t one in the pipeline.
That said, with the broad result not in doubt, maybe it would be excessive to do an early morning second-run edition… in the same way you might say writing a daily blog and 30,000 words on these largely predictable elections has been. Hey ho. The unknowns about Swiss Cottage, Belsize and Highgate are unlikely to match the revolution of 2006. Back then, it was a historic moment and we got out on the streets as fast as we could.