Thursday, 25 August 2011

'A bomb in the park': Brian Coleman, a dangerous banner, and a turbulent priest

The Rev Benjamin in action

Missing in action: Julian Silverman appealing for information

* Update Friday evening, see below ...

Last weekend, as you may recall, we had the Friern Barnet Summer Show, an event which is held every year in Friary Park, North Finchley. This affair is run by one Brian Coleman, who is a director of the company that organises everything, as he declares in his GLA interests online (it might well be the same in Barnet but we would not know, as he has opted out of declaring them in this way): this declaration states: Friern Barnet Summer Show Limited (25% of the shared capital – no dividends) and Chairman of the Board of Directors (unremunerated).

You may also recall that earlier in the year, one Brian Coleman had upset the local voluntary organisers of the hundred year old Finchley Carnival, in Victoria Park, which led to the Carnival being abandoned, as it was made impossible for local organisers to retain proper control of management. They objected to the large funfair that Coleman insisted should be hired, and were also stunned by the huge increase in charges that he had imposed. He also made offensive remarks about the organisers of the Carnival:

“The council has rescued the event and saved it for the benefit of the people of Finchley. We saved it from a bunch of amateurs who failed to deliver.

“Last year it was sad and pathetic. This year it’s going to be fun in Finchley.”

Thanks largely to Coleman's interference, Finchley Carnival, for the first time in its history was cancelled, and it is clear that he wants his own preferred team to take over the management of next year's event. You might question why he thinks he has the right to do this, rather than listen to the wishes of local people, but if you question why that is, you really don't know much about Brian Coleman.

Friern Barnet Summer Show has apart from an enormous funfair, two large tents for local displays and traders - one full of prize vegetables, victoria sponges, jam and a photo competition, the other with a mixture of craft stalls and local community groups.

Several local community groups applied for a pitch in the second tent, or a stall outside, this year. These included Friends of the Earth, a Friern Barnet preservation society, oh and BAPS: the Barnet Alliance against the cuts. This is an organisation of local residents concerned about the effects of budget cuts on the local community, a group of perfectly law abiding, sensible, thoughtful adults who meet once a fortnight, discuss local political issues and have occasional guest speakers - and attend lobbies of the council.

When BAPS applied for a stall at the show, they were successful and a member duly went to pay for the privilige, only to be told that permission had been withdrawn.

Undeterred, on Saturday some of the group turned up and stood outside the park gates to leaflet visitors. On Vicki Morris' blog

Brian Coleman protects his assets at the Friern Barnet summer show

you can see a nice picture of Brian Coleman coming to the gate to express his admiration for their activities - as well as being given a tongue lashing by Mr Whippy (and not for the first time, I'll bet).

On Sunday, a sympathetic stall holder suggested that BAPs might like to share their pitch, and this offer was gratefully received. After a while, resident Julian Silverman turned up with the BAPs banner and walked towards the tent with it. Unfortunately, as he did so, he was spotted by a member of Brian Coleman's organising team, Father Adrian Benjamin, who remonstrated with him, and then later followed him to the stall, where Julian had put the banner.

Father Benjamin is a local Church of England vicar: a somewhat flamboyant character, with a full, snowy white beard, and a liking for strutting about in cloaks, and making theatrical gestures, which is not surprising, perhaps, as the Reverend used to be An Actor, don't you know. Or so we are told. He apparently played the role of the Pope in a 1960s film version of Doctor Faustus, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Mrs Angry is struck by the theme of Faustian pacts that linger around the edges of Brian Coleman's interesting life. Anyway: now Father Benjamin plays the role of a high church minister, with firm Tory convictions - and he plays it very well, and does the work of the Lord, and Brian Coleman, with panache, and a distinctive style. Go Father Benjamin. Take a look at the rev's facebook page, and you will see what a groovy vicar he is. Not so long ago he took part in a tv series called 'The Search', which he seemed to enjoy enormously. Oh, and by the way, he is reputed to be a particular friend of a certain former Finchley MP, Margaret Thatcher.

So, anyway, here we are in the tent, with Barnet Alliance, and their banner, and the Reverend Benjamin. The Reverend Benjamin does not like the banner of the Barnet Alliance.

Banners are powerful objects, aren't they? Rallying points: they have a totemic value beyond the mere contents, or symbolism, of the banners themselves. From biblical times, to the battle fields of the middle ages and beyond, we have attributed special significance to the preservation of banners, flags. In the history of trade unionism, banners have become an intrinsic part of the language of protest - even now, after all the mines in Durham have been closed, thanks to Fr Benjamin's friend Margaret, the union lodge banners are paraded proudly every year at the annual gala by members of the former mining communities.

The Barnet Alliance banner wasn't a great work of art: just a declaration, four feet by nine:

'Our libraries, our NHS, our schools, our wardens, our streets, our land, our old, our young, our past, our future .... Hands off our Barnet'.

So what was so controversial about that?

This is the account of what happened next, as told by Julian Silverman, published here with his permission: he claims that after the banner was kidnapped, (see photo above) and Julian asked what had happened to it, he was informed by Fr Adrian:

"He said he WAS the committee and said "yes I like to be the dictator"
"if someone leaves a bomb in the park, don't I have the right to get rid of

Mr Silverman: "This wasn't a bomb....."

"Your banner is [like] a bomb. Here are the good council doing everything they can for you .... yes,the cuts....and you are trying to destroy them. Your banner is evil...."

This echoes Brian Coleman's greeting to me the day before:

"What are you doing here?"

Mr Silverman: "Read the leaflet and....!

"Mr Silverman. I wouldn't read it. Everything you write is crap! Thissummer fair is for community groups..."

Mr Silverman:"We are a community group"

"No you're not. You're a political party trying to undermine all our work..."

It also recalls what one of his minders shouted at me after he had knocked
down our table, broken the pole and walked off with the banner:

"If you burgled my property I'd break more than your banner...."

Mr Silverman: "Yes. You'd be breaking the law"

after the banner was taken away (see photo above) Julian asked what had happened to it:

"Back to the good father Adrian:

"You can't have your banner back. It's lost."

Mr Silverman: "Well you had responsibility for it while it was in your posession. What did
you do with it?"

"I put it down at the other end of the marquee. And when I came for it this morning it had gone. I thought you had picked it up."

Mr Silverman: "Why didn't you tell me you were leaving it there? Why did you tell X
that you had given it to Brian Coleman who had taken it to the town hall?"

"I thought that might amuse him"
...You can tell everybody - spread the word! let everyone know what a terrible man! - you are"

Mr Silverman: "Has the Archdeacon been in touch with you yet?"



"He's going to write to you"

"and what's he going to say?"

"he's going to tell you that you had no business being in the park..."

Witnesses including Donald Lyven, incidentally, had seen this incident, and also noted Coleman's sidekick, Tory councillor Rowan Turner, joining in the fun:

"The way he spoke saying the Barnet Alliance stall was taking away space from other stall holders, despite being in a half-empty marquee wasn't just ridiculous but very creepy."

On the BAPS website there is another account of the incident:

"He said it was like a bomb, intended to destroy the good work of the council and therefore he had a right to seize it, break it or get rid of it. On the other hand the laughing priest also announced that he had given it to Brian Coleman who had taken it to Barnet Town Hall, from where we could recover it. When questioned, he claimed that actually he had lost it. He had left it in a corner of the marquee where we had been manning a stall he didn’t approve of. A gang working for him had knocked down the table, broken the banner’s support pole, run off with it and left it in his possession. When he came back for it next morning, it had gone. There have been plentiful rumours as to its actual whereabouts. A member of the Summer Fair committee said that it was in the church. Gang members said that they were going to leave it at the park gates. (It wasn’t there when we looked.)

If anybody can give any information as to its whereabouts, Father Adrian would be most grateful. He needs to dismantle it. A ‘bomb’ of such power that it can destroy a council’s good works is capable of doing a great deal of damage lying God knows where permanently at large in the community where any unsuspecting citizen can inadvertently come across it – a vulnerable elderly person perhaps or a child with no children’s centre or a disaffected youth with nowhere to go and nothing to do! This could be even more dangerous than when it stood innocently behind a stall inside a closed marquee for half a day."

Julian Silverman, on behalf of BAPs, contacted the Diocese of London to protest about the 'theft' of their banner. The Bishop of Edmonton was away, so the matter was passed onto the Archdeacon of Hampstead. The Archdeacon was said to be writing to Julian to tell him that the banner, in fact, was apparently in the hands of er, Brian Coleman ... hmm.

Julian tried to ask the local police to take the matter up: they said it seemed to be a civil dispute, rather than a crime, and therefore they could not intervene. The whereabouts of the banner, therefore, remain a mystery.

Oh dear, Father Adrian: it seems Mrs Angry may have to remind you of Isaiah 11, verse 12:

"He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth."

(see, Jeffrey: the benefits of a convent education ...)

You may see the BAPs banner as a dangerous object: a bomb: something likely to explode at any moment. Mrs Angry would suggest that you consider the possibility that this is because such activisim and commitment is closer to the true spirit of Christianity than the self seeking materialism of the Tory party.

Who do you really think the man from Nazareth would feel most at home with, Reverend: a pantomime vicar in a tent, actively denying the right to free speech and political dissent - and Brian Coleman, or a group of ordinary residents fighting to protect the rights of the disadvantaged members of our community, here in Broken Barnet?

Give them back their banner.

*Update, Friday evening.

Well hello: what do we have here? Mrs Angry has been busy today, following up this story. And what an interesting story it is, citizens of Broken Barnet, with information flowing in from all corners of our beloved borough.

Mrs Angry has performed a mini armchair audit, or an 'Eric', as we Barnet bloggers like to refer to them, on the company which runs the Friern Barnet Summer Show. This goes under the name of, wait for it: Friern Barnet Summer Show Ltd.

At the moment, there are three directors: yes, our Brian Coleman, and a gentleman called Robert Newton, who Mrs Angry believes is a former Barnet Tory councillor, oh, and - the Reverend Adrian Benjamin. Both the latter two gentlemen, by the way, received civic awards from the borough earlier this year, which is nice. Mrs Angry is going to nominate all her fellow bloggers for this award this year, as they undoubtedly make such a valuable contribution to the well being of our borough. Shame we don't know any Tory councillors to smooth the way.

Councillor John Marshall: Mrs Angry is winking in your direction, look ...

So: Mrs Angry has looked at the accounts of this company, and this has confirmed information given to her by other sources: as stated by a certain Brian J Coleman, (AM, FRSA) Chairman of the directors, in a document signed on June 29th 2011:

'The 2010 summer show was run by the All Saints Art Centre under the auspices of the All Saints Friern Barnet Parochial Church Council.'

The All Saints Art Centre is a venture run by our friend Father Adrian Benjamin, of course.

According to the balance sheet on page 4 of the accounts, there was only £49, yes £49, in the kitty ... Thankfully,and very generously, the All Saints Arts Centre had loaned the company a princely sum of .... £4,461.

Wasn't that kind?

Income and expenditure for the year ending 31st October 2010, revealed on a table on page 3, was, er £0.00. Hmm.

In another interesting development, Mrs Angry has been told that many people are under the impression that the use of Friary Park for the fair was either at a nominal, very low rate, or completely free. Mrs Angry is happy to correct this, if evidence is shown to her that the full level of new charges was imposed.

Mrs Angry can understand now why the use of a very large funfair is so helpful to the successs of the Friern Barnet Summer Show.

Mrs Angry can also imagine how these revelations will be received by members of the community who had to cancel the Finchley Carnival this year, due to interference from Brian Coleman, and the level of exorbitant new charges that were forced onto the event, and who were described by him as 'a bunch of amateurs' who 'failed to deliver' and last year produced an event he claims was 'sad and pathetic'. Councillor Coleman is widely believed to be trying to get next year's carnival organised by Benjamin and his cronies, with the Coleman favoured fun fair in place.

There are many unanswered questions. How can the All Saints Arts Centre afford to loan so much money to the Friern Barnet Summer Show? Has it been repaid? Has the show been subsidised by the London Borough of Barnet? Was the Friern show charged the full amount, or was it waived, and if so, by whom, and on what grounds? And if so, why was Finchley Carnival not extended the same level of assistance? Was it because they have a mind of their own, and refused to do as they were told?

More importantly, are these local events really best served by being hostage to the control of an individual Tory councillor and his mates, or should they be organised by the community, for the community?


Mr Mustard said...

Not sure if BAPS already have them but I think that all the members should have a BAPS t-shirt with the same message as the banner on it and see if Brian or the reverend want to seize those also.

The reverend and Brian should both be ashamed of themselves

Mrs Angry said...

I absolutely agree, Mr Mustard: I think their behaviour is petty, pathetic and shameful. It gives an interesting insight into the mindset of this sort of Tory, of course. And it is only really what you might expect to find, here in the totalitarian state of Broken Barnet.

Mr Reasonable said...

Very interesting Mrs Angry. Perhaps there is a coincidence here that the next Chipping Barnet residents forum is to be held at the All Saints Arts Centre rather than the usual venues like Chipping Barnet Library, East Barnet or Danegrove schools. I wonder what the rental charge is for the All Saints Centre?

Mrs Angry said...

Greetings, Mr Reasonable ... I expect that the All Saints Arts Centre offers value for money in the full spirit of the One Barnet manifesto: better services for less money. Better meaning that the atmosphere is spiritually uplifting and full of the reassuring smell of Conservative values. Now that the Residents' Forums have been constitutionally censored by Coleman and the Tory junta, it is only fitting that a venue more in line with Big Brother thinking is used for the events.

Mr Mustard said...

Why are we paying out to use a private centre when we have council premises sitting idle? I will get my altar ego to ask Mr Lustig.(sic)

Mrs Angry said...

Good luck: I can't get my alter ego to do anything. She seems to think she has a mind of her own.
Perhaps we should ask to hold the Residents Forums in the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole? Or the RAF Museum,with catering by Digby Trout, and prizes for the least dangerous question?