Catching up on a couple of things from earlier in the week – to Wapping on Thursday to be interviewed for a film. No – sadly not becoming a movie start! Carol Morley, a film-maker, interviewed me about the tragic death of Joyce Vincent who was found dead in her flat in Sky City (above Wood Green shopping city) and who had been dead for about two years. There were half-wrapped Christmas presents on the floor, the TV was on and the window was open with a billowing curtain.
We all said ‘how tragic’, how could it happen, where were the neighbours, where was her family, what about utilities, what about Housing Association rent arrears and so on and so on. She had been at one time a victim of domestic violence – but that was past. In the end there was no foul play – but the haunting nature of the case made me pursue various strands for some months – long after the media circus had left town.
Well – Carol came to interview me then – and now she has found the funding and is making a movie about Joyce. She has found out more than the journalists, more than the police, more than anyone – and I’m not going to say here what she found – but it will make a riveting film and it will be a tribute to this woman who we all felt so bad about and about whom virtually nothing was known.
Then it was to the Whittington Hospital for a flu jab. I always have the jab (am asthmatic) but usually at my doctor’s surgery – but to publicise the need for people who are older, have diabetes or asthma – want to raise the profile. No doubt very special treatment as the Head of Nursing gives me the jab. Thanks Camilla!
Then visited the newly doubled in size and refurbished wards for extremely premature babies. They were so tiny – it’s unbelievable how the babies survive. It’s not just the equipment – but also the completely dedicated and committed team of nurses and consultants who work round the clock to protect and nurture these tiny lives.
Yesterday, I had an interview with a filmmaker called Carol who is making a film about Joyce Vincent – the woman found dead in a flat in Wood Green and who had been dead for three years. Found with the television on and Christmas presents wrapped, she was relatively young. Carol wants to make a film about the woman and society and how this can happen in today’s world.
I run her though my take on all that has gone on – including my visit to the refuge where Joyce was housed at some point over a domestic violence issue. I met with the Housing Association. I talked to the police. I corresponded with the local authority Chief Exec. And I tried my hardest to get a meeting with Women’s Aid – but to date they have not responded.
And my conclusions? Well – the Housing Association are putting in place a trigger mechanism so that any one of their around 500 tenants who live on their own will be flagged up if not seen for x amount of time. The Chief Exec of the local authority said that they were satisfied there was nothing in their remit that could have been done. The police revisited the decision they made when they originally went into the flat that it was not foul play. Having revisited the decision – they remained content with it.
I feel duty bound to pursue a couple of things a bit further for this woman whose life ended so sadly. Because whilst the media circus went away – there are still a couple of things that give me concern. The first is the statutory inspection that I believe is meant to be made annually on any such property. The other really results from my visit to the women’s refuge that night. A young girl let me in and we talked for about three quarters of an hour. She had been there a year – and never knew or had heard of Joyce Vincent. She said that there wasn’t much contact with the women’s organisation – and that ‘you could commit suicide here and no one would know’. She was due to leave a few days after my visit and I gave her my personal mobile number in case she needed to talk to me. I was concerned that my visit might worry her in some way. In the event, she called me a few days later to say that she had indeed moved into a flat in West Hampstead and the guys doing up the flat had robbed her and broken the lock on the door. In order to get a grant to mend the door lock, she needed a crime number and she was too frightened to contact the police. So I rang the local police commander and got the name of a special liaison officer and the number for her to call. She rang again a couple of days later to say in fact she had gone and stayed at her aunts for a couple of nights and her aunt paid for the door to be repaired.
The reason I wanted to meet with Women’s Aid is really to ask about how it works for women when they are in a refuge and when they leave. I suspect many women don’t want ongoing contact – but I wondered whether resources are so tight that after care is not offered. I just don’t know. I am still hoping to get to see them at some point. I suspect their reluctance stems from trying to avoid the real media onslaught that surrounded the Joyce Vincent case and that they are acting to protect women in such situations. However, there are still some questions.
So – I dropped the filmmaker at the flats above Wood Green shopping city. There is such a fascination for us, I think, to imagine how you could die and no one know or care for three years. Perhaps Carol will find her story – but more likely not. People do have the right to say that they don’t want to associate with the world, and if someone wants to cut themselves off – that is their right.
Today have meeting with Regional Director of Metropolitan Housing – the housing association in charge of the flat in Wood Green where Joyce Vincent lay dead for two to three years.
Having gone over the procedures at length, I am part re-assured that the association is looking at ways that they can pick up on the warning signs from persistent lack of contact with a tenant. He gives me no details at all on the crucial issues of timing – and we outside just have to take the assurance that there was nothing about Ms Vincent that indicated she needed any more support or contact than the rest of us.
Mr Mawson picks up something I had put on my blog – which was that I am surprised around the lack of follow up on anyone who leaves a women’s refuge. I had ventured to suggest that there should at minimum level be a follow up phone call or something at 3 months, and 6 months for the first year or whatever – just to touch base, not necessarily intervene in any way. Mr Mawson says he will add it into the safety net pot that he is trying to create to ensure this doesn’t happen again. He promises to write to me when the report on the incident is finished and goes to the board. He seems determined to instigate better procedures.
The only niggle I really have left is that without any information as to the timing of any of the events leading up to Ms Vincent’s death – you kind of feel as if you haven’t made sure for yourself the facts of the case.
Spend rest of evening trying to deal with amendments for the Police Justice Bill on Wednesday.
Surgery all morning at Wood Green Library. Got more information now about the death of Joyce Vincent – the woman found in a Wood Green flat having been dead for two to three years. She had been housed by the Metropolitan Housing Association. In the end it was their bailiffs who went in because of the need to repossess the flat due to rent arrears. Her rent had been party paid by benefits and, I believe, started off in credit. Anyway – seemed to me that three years was a very long time to wait to chase up money owing and neighbours reported that usually – if they owed money – Metropolitan was on to them quite quickly. Well – I had an example walk through my surgery door where Metropolitan were going for eviction after three months of a new tenant. I am trying to stop it because – as is so often the case – the problem was with their benefits not being paid properly. But the point is – if they were so quick off the mark in this instance, what happened to make them wait three years in Joyce Vincent’s case? A question for the Chief Exec next week at our meeting I think.
Rush on to a meeting of Highgate Woods Committee (run by Corporation of London and local residents who are community minded). I just really wanted to show my support for the work of these dedicated souls who watch over our precious woods and care on our behalf. Highgate Woods are beautiful – they have that special atmosphere that you only get in woodlands (Queens Wood has it too). Sometimes I think we don’t really know how lucky we are – or all use it to best advantage. In fact the Corporation are to do a survey around people who live near the woods. I think it will be very interesting to learn what use people who live right there make of the woods – and if they don’t, why they don’t. Up to now surveys have been of users. Just as with buses – my old argument with Transport for London bus surveys was that they were always preaching to the converted in their surveys. What you really want is a survey that goes to everyone who lives within 5 minutes of a bus route to discover why they are not using their local services.
Anyway – I told the committee that I had actually mentioned Highgate Woods in my maiden speech – albeit only to mention that that is where I used to play kiss chase with other kids from Highgate Primary!
Just a footnote on the rolling news re Charles Clarke and the released murderers, rapists and so on. Several have now turned up and turned out to have been reconvicted for new offences. I’m sorry but this is hardly a surprise when there is a recidivist rate of 60% within two years. This was inevitable. And as to the view that Clarke is the best person to sort this out and therefore he should stay in post – this is a ridiculous hypothesis. Firstly – he didn’t tackle it effectively – even though he knew. Secondly it would seem that there is a view that there is no one better who could take his place anyway – a sad reflection if the case.
(You can sign the petition calling for him to go at www.libdems.org.uk/charles-clarke.html)
What I will say for Charles is that he has not tried to shift the blame to his Ministers. ‘Cos basically it’s the two Macs. McNulty and McTaggart in the Commons and Baroness Scotland in the Lords who between them have the responsibility for prisons and immigration. Clarke is right to take it on his shoulders – for that at least, I give him credit.
Over the last week or so the furore around the death of Joyce Vincent – the woman who was found dead in a flat in Wood Green and who had been dead for two years – has swirled around me. As I listened to each piece of information from whatever source I became more and more concerned as there were so few answers that actually answered anything.
Following my request to the local Police Commander to open a fresh criminal investigation, I spoke to the police the same day to follow up. They are not opening a fresh investigation – but they were re-visiting the investigation and conclusions they had reached first time round when the body was found. They wanted to ensure that they still ‘felt comfortable’ with what they had done at the time. And basically – they were pretty emphatic that there was no sign of foul play – that the Coroner had found no injuries etc. Although how you find injuries on someone who has been dead for two or so years is a mystery to me. Anyway – no further investigation was believed to be necessary.
I have had responses to my enquiries both to the local Council Chief Exec and Metropolitan Housing Trust. The Council doesn’t appear to feel it has any particular remit in this and the Housing Association says that it had only a caretaking responsibility in terms of the flat – i.e. normal caretaker responsibilities but no support package. They were facilitating ‘independent’ living.
At least the Head of Metropolitan Housing has suggested that we meet Monday week – and I am anxious to meet with him. Not pointing fingers – but it is inconceivable to me that you can have a tenant with no contact for three years – particularly if they have been housed following leaving a women’s refuge. I am trying to get a meeting with the Head of Women’s’ Aid too – because surely anyone leaving a refuge is vulnerable and needs an eye to be kept on them? So many questions still outstanding.
It may not be foul play that ended Ms Vincent’s life – but it is an indictment of us as a society and our so called safety-net that she fell through and nobody noticed or seemed to care. The media furore may die down – but I will continue to pursue these issues until I am reassured that no vulnerable person leaves a refuge without some follow-up mechanism to simply check she is alright, especially when there is rent unpaid for a long period of time giving a clue that something may be up.
A Labour leaflet came my way from the trio of Labour candidates in Highgate Ward. It made me smile really. They are pictured smiling in front of Blanche Nevile school – but it is Labour who are currently threatening it with closure! No mention of this in the leaflet either! I wonder what people worried about the school’s future will make of that photo?