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It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute February 18, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Mental Health.
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Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

THIS IS THE STORY that ran on the front cover of our local paper, The Biggleswade Chronicle, yesterday, and it’s a story that’s as tragic as it gets: in short, Peter Williams, who was clinically depressed and lived here in Langford, didn’t pay his council tax for several years around the turn of the millennium, was made bankrupt and eventually, faced with the threat of eviction from his home, killed himself on the railway at Biggleswade last week.

I’ll let one of his friends take up the story, as published in the Chronicle:

His friend, Richard Harris, who assisted Peter in his legal battles, said: “His council pursued him relentlessly and aggressively over a period of some 16 years without helping him. It culminated in them bankrupting him over a £1,350 debt in 2006, seeking to evict him from his home, which was worth in excess of £200,000, that he owned outright.”

The report goes on to quote a Central Beds Council spokesman explaining that the unpaid £1,350 represented legal costs incurred by the council and its solicitors in pursuing Mr Williams — but, if you’ll forgive me colloquialising, “it ain’t our fault, guv, honest” because the debt had been handed over to Grant Thornton, acting as bankruptcy trustees, and apparently they were the ones behind the eviction proceedings as part of the debt recovery process.

The council, on the other hand, were right there supporting Mr Williams:

[The spokesman] added that the council’s emergency duty team was in touch with Peter earlier this month and referred him for an urgent mental health assessment.

Last year the Local Government Ombudsman investigated the council’s relationship with Peter and said there were no grounds on which to criticise the council.

So where does that leave us? A man with known mental health problems, hounded to death over a council tax dispute, and a blameless council. Maybe I’m missing something here: I never knew Peter, even though he lived in the same village as me, and unlike the Local Government Ombudsman, I’m not privy to the ins and outs of Peter’s story and have only the Chronicle report to go on; but assuming the accuracy of that report, I have a couple of simple questions for Central Beds Council:

  1. Who let the dogs out?
  2. Since you knew about Peter’s mental health problems, why didn’t you call them off?

Seems to me that transferring a debt to a third party, then denying all responsibility when that third party’s pursuit of that debt results in a tragedy such as this, simply doesn’t wash, any more than Pontius Pilate washing his hands absolved him of responsibility for the death of Jesus.

No one should be hounded by debt collectors to the point where they can see no way forward beyond taking their own life; and when a person has a known record of mental health difficulties, even more caution is called for.

Which begs the question: was it suicide, or murder?

A shortened version of this post has been sent as a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle.

Comments»

1. Pandora - February 18, 2012

‘Disgusted’ doesn’t even come close, Phil.

I wish I had words, but all I can say is that this is beyond comprehension, human empathy and good old common sense :(

*hugs* mate.

Take care

Pan <3 xxx

2. www.justdifficult.com - February 18, 2012

I’m afraid that this is becoming all too common. Turning debts over to third parties is all too often a “solution” to these “problems”…

There needs to be much firmer regulation of credit agencies, and also a lot more in the way of education for people with mental illnesses about what they should and can do in this situations.

I wonder if it might help if I offered to do a debt management thingy for TWIM?

Nevertheless, whatever the facts, it remains that this poor man killed himself – even though he had the security of his own home. It should NEVER have been allowed to get this far. I dunno. Sometimes I just have to ask – what’s wrong with these fucking people – have they no heart left?

Clarissa X
http://www.justdifficult.com

Phil Groom - February 21, 2012

Hi Clarissa – Pan’s the boss at TWIM :) but for sure, would be more than happy to consider a guest post at 5 Quid for Life on debt management. Will email you…

3. Richard H Harris - February 20, 2012

Phil, thank you for posting this and also Pandora & Clarissa for your comments. Finally some other people that find this as disgusting and distrubing as I do and did. The pain for me is constant. It’s even worse for his relatives. There’s a lot more to it that wasn’t published. Richard Harris

Phil Groom - February 21, 2012

Richard, I’m glad you found this post, though I’m truly sorry for your grief. Hopefully headlining Peter’s story in the Biggleswade Chronicle will do more than raise a few eyebrows, and I’m hoping they’ll print my letter as a follow-up to the report to challenge the Council’s attitude. It’s such a paltry sum they were pursuing him over (and much as they may wish to deny it, it’s their debt Grant Thornton were chasing), and if they were that determined to get it, surely a court order to dock a regular amount from his income at source could have dealt with it? But pursuing someone like this, with a known history of mental health problems, simply beggars belief.

Nothing can bring Peter back, obviously, or undo the harm done, but maybe, just maybe, by highlighting what’s happened here we can somehow help towards preventing this happening to anyone else…

4. MsLeftie - February 21, 2012

Absolutely crazy…

5. Richard H Harris - February 21, 2012

Phil, Thank you.

They couldn’t get at an attachment to earnings as due to his health his work was intermittent.

They could however have taken a charge against his property – the humane, sane and right thing to do.

Remember even if they were devoid of humanity and compassion it was a c. £200k property he owned outright, they would have had to rehouse him at tax payers expense and the debt was only £1350 (which is all the Council get) at the start.

By the time any of his friends knew about it, the debt was over £30k and over £70k when he died. His family never knew about any of it and we didn’t know about his family.

He is greatly missed, but as you say hopefully this can be prevented from happening again. Stopping it from happening to anyone else is just what Peter would have wanted.

Phil Groom - February 23, 2012

How a £1350 debt becomes over £70k is beyond my ken, but as you say, Richard, a charge over the house would have been far more sensible: no debt is worth pushing someone over the edge for like this. Utterly beyond belief *sigh* …

6. titflasher - February 23, 2012

RIP Peter Williams, I am so sorry. Not suicide, murder.

7. Phil Groom - February 24, 2012

Pleased to see that the Biggleswade Chronicle have printed my letter today, p.12, under the heading, “Council is acting like Pontius Pilate”. They missed off my closing question, however: was it suicide or murder? Even so, the main thrust of the letter is there with the two questions, Who let the dogs out? and Why didn’t they call them off?

www.justdifficult.com - February 24, 2012

Nice one Phil. I really hope that this brings these cases to light rather more. I am, as promised writing a piece about debt and mental illness for 5quid – doing a bit each day, so will be ready soon.

So sad these things happen – so pointless and so unnecessary.

Clarissa
http://www.justdifficult.com

Phil Groom - February 24, 2012

Thanks Clarissa – look forward to it when you’re ready.

8. smswan - March 16, 2012

I as leave my home soon to attend Peters funeral , I remember fondly a gentle man , a great engineer and friend I will miss. I still cant believe this has happened and I still feel sick to the core and so desperately sad for Peter and his family. We have to tell Peter story so that no one else feels so tormented and bullied by the system and the cowards that hide behind it.

9. smswan - March 16, 2012
Phil Groom - March 16, 2012

A tragedy indeed, and far too reminiscent of Peter’s story: have these debt collectors no heart, no soul?

10. Richard H Harris (@TelecomGuru) - March 19, 2012

This woman http://ombudsmanwatchers.org.uk/ombuds/jane_martin.html is of the opinion the council was blameless and acted appropriately.

11. Phil - April 12, 2012

Any third party collector is an agent of the council, they must take full responsibility

12. Duncan - July 15, 2012

Let’s hope the coroner can bring to the fore the true facts in this case – it’s a positive start with the inquest adjourned to enable council witnesses to be summoned. And the Daily Express are also on the case http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/332915/Inventor-kills-himself-over-tax-pursuit with an accurate account published on Saturday 15th July.

13. Richard H Harris (@TelecomGuru) - July 15, 2012
14. bangers - July 17, 2012

Hello, in case you might interested I thought I’d let you know that I’ve included a quote from your report and a link to your blog here (which I hope is ok with you, if not I’ll delete it if you ask) in the discussion of this dreadful tragedy at http://www.moneysavingexpert.com in the Discussion Time board in the forum, which you can only see if you sign up and log in, it’s the last one on the list, right at the bottom as part of The Arms.

This is the thread :

Inventor kills himself over tax ‘pursuit’
# 1 ben500 16 July 2012 8:30 PM
http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=4075379

My username at MSE is bangersnmash

Right now, as of midnight, it’s closed for maintenance but normally opens again within an hour or three.

Regards
bangers

15. Phil Groom - July 21, 2012

Thanks guys. Sad – but not surprising – to see the council still in denial of their culpability :(

16. Tom McCabe - July 24, 2012

For Gods sake lets do something to stop this happening again.
Grant Thornton are the people I hold responsible for this good mans
cruel death . I know I and my family have been tortured by them for the last 2 years.
We sold a company for £30 K .The buyers said the were going to my accountants to finish the deal they would bring the signed change of directors with them.
The company went into liquidation owing BT £330 K. The new owners disappeared.
Grant Thornton ,with the help of BT,said I owed them for the debt.
It was now £550K.Including their costs
My wife,a social worker,and I were still directors.
We agreed to sell our house to stop the torture and pay £550K
On the day we signed that ,they then said we owed a further £700 K
in legal bills.
We went bankrupt
My daughter has learning difficulties. her house is in my wives name.
They were told that the two girls she shares with are extremely fragile .They wrote to them each by name giving them notice of eviction.
They laugh at my MP Zac Goldsmith,
18 months later they will not itemise the £700 k bill.
They are now my wives trustee and she has suffered from depression brought on by Grant Thornton. They have built a additional bill of up to £400 K against her.

I am in tears as I write this ,is it for Peter or myself ?

Phil Groom - July 24, 2012

Completely and utterly outrageous, Tom. Reminds me of something Anne Atkins said in her Thought for the Day this morning: one of the signs of a civilised society is that the strong care for the weak. How far our society has fallen :(

17. Tom McCabe - July 24, 2012

Thank you Phil,
I would like to talk to the instructing solicitors for Peter Williams.
If the £70 K bill from Grant Thornton is not correct then serious questions will need to be answered by Grant Thornton
If we were advised that the bill would be reduced on inspection by say 30% his estate could have a claim against Grant Thornton.
I would be prepared to champion a fund to raise funds to investigate.
This would be in line with his expressed wishes

18. Stephen Elcombe - July 25, 2012

More press coverage this week as this appauling story is on the front page of the Biggleswade Advertiser – http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/Launch.aspx?referral=mypagesuite&refresh=Ag412Y0fn03N&PBID=b63d5a87-f7f2-4259-89a0-6baeea9a215b.

Let’s hope that this is a proper inquest which has a just conclusion!

19. Anon - July 27, 2012

What a tragedy. Surely the council should be charged with corporate manslaughter now?

20. REPOST: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute | Phil's Boring Blog - June 3, 2013

[…] BRINGING THIS POST — originally published 18th Feb 2012 — back to the top because Peter’s tragic story has now made the national news as the […]

21. Peter Williams Inquest | Richard H Harris - June 4, 2013
22. Rutlander - October 27, 2013

See death of Aman Mehra reported in Private Eye Rotten Boroughs 16 December 2012. Was Peter politically active? Are council’s hounding people to death when they “discover things they shouldn’t”?

Phil Groom - October 27, 2013

I’m not aware of any political activity on Peter’s part. I think in Peter’s case it comes down to bureaucratic bungling by people whose only interest lay in debt-collecting, people who either didn’t care about or didn’t consider the likely impact of their behaviour and attitudes on the person they were chasing. Peter’s mental health difficulties were known, but the council and their agents kept the pressure on regardless.


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