REPOST: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute June 3, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Mental Health.
Tags: Biggleswade Chronicle, Central Beds Council, Council Tax, Debt, Depression, Langford, Mental Illness, Peter Williams, Suicide
I’M 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 inquest into his death is at last underway. Please spare a thought and a prayer for his friends and family as the inquest and news coverage forces them to revisit their grief.
Here are some of the reports:
- BBC News, Beds, Herts & Bucks: Bedfordshire inquest hears eviction threat led to death
- Daily Mail: Council accused of hounding Dragons’ Den inventor to his death by relatives after it made him bankrupt and sent in bailiffs over unpaid tax
- Hertfordshire Advertiser: ‘Council hounded ‘brilliant’ Langford inventor to his death’
- Huffington Post UK: Peter Williams Killed Himself After Battling Missed Council Tax Payments
- Lynn News: Railway death engineer ‘confused’
- Telegraph: Railway death engineer told friends he was going to kill himself after council tax battle
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:
- Who let the dogs out?
- 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?
- Read Part 1: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder
A shortened version of this post has been sent as a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle.