Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Grocer's Daughter and A Mystery Fortune in Bricks and Mortar

FROM DING DONG SONG TO SINGING  IN THE RAIN.  media say "hundreds", friends say 3,000, and so do photographs, like this one from Nicholas Glais.

APOLOGIES to fans and admirers who might have been hoping for a bop around Trafalgar Square with me on Saturday evening, but after an early start, an interesting meeting of the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils, and a few pints with the gang before heading home through the rain, I'd had enough excitement for the day. Such is old age.

Besides, there had been all the warnings in the media, of murder and mayhem being brought to the capital by anarchists, if not al Qaida, and judging from the armed police I passed at Kings Cross someone was taking it all seriously.

Doing its best to keep up the thrills and supposed suburban outrage, the Daily Mail came up with a scoop:

Mastermind behind plans to disrupt Thatcher funeral is Oxford student whose parents live in £700,000 house in Tunbridge Wells

  • 25-year-old Dominic Francis studies at Oxford's Ruskin College 
  • Fanatics plan to 'celebrate' Iron Lady's death in Central London today If people do break the law they will be properly dealt with,' Mayor said 
  • Police preparing for planned protest in Trafalgar Square tonight
  • Members of Durham Miners' Association among those taking part
  • The Mail Discovers a Mastermind
It seemed that not only were people going to be listening to speeches and partying in the Square on Saturday night, but what young Dominic has planned is for people to turn their backs on Thtacher's funeral cortege as it passes by on Wednesday. Wow, that is really scary.

Not wishing these young whipper-snappers to receive all the credit for the national rejoicing I am going to make a confession. Some years back when an unfortunately unfounded rumour went around before Christmas that Thatcher had popped her clogs, I suggested that if this was confirmed the song should resound throughout the land, "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead".

True to my word, as soon as I heard the news of her death at the Ritz last week I opened my windows and regaled the neigbours with more than one version of the Yip Harburg classic. I have not had any complaints, nor even remarks, but I read in the Mail that a decision by the BBC to broadcast a short snatch of the Ding Dong song after it zoomed up the charts is handing "victory to the Trots". Ding Dong victory.

Loth as I am to claim credit for an idea that occurred to so many other people, I think for the sake of the Daily Mail  I will confess to being the "mastermind", or if you prefer, the Mister Big, who started this conspiracy. Well, we need every little victory we can get.

But while the Rothermere rag was doing its best to stir up readers' resentment against this young man at Ruskin over his parents' house in Surrey (without much success, to judge from the comments I've seen), the Daily Mirror was drawing our attention to another, more pertinent housing story.  

Mystery: Margaret Thatcher, her £6m house and the tax havens

Margaret Thatcher’s £6m London townhouse is owned by a mysterious company with links to THREE notorious tax havens.Financial experts said it could have been a scheme which would help her estate avoid millions of pounds in inheritance tax.

But because her affairs are shrouded in such extraordinary secrecy it may be impossible to find out.

The trail leads to offshore businesses in the British Virgin Islands with links to Liechtenstein and Jersey.

The £6million property she lived in for more than 20 years is owned by Bakeland Property Company, based in the BVI.The company’s official address is a PO Box in a small town in Liechtenstein and it had its original roots in St Helier, Jersey.

Any suggestion of avoiding a £2.4m inheritance tax bill will spark outrage following the row over who is paying for Thatcher’s lavish £10m funeral.

Records at the government’s Land Registry HQ in Croydon, South London showed that on March 29, 2006, Bakeland paid £2,395,807 for the house at Chester Square in Belgravia, London.It is unclear who they purchased the house from because they were also named on the lease when the house was originally bought on October 30, 1991 for a reported £700,000 in 1991.

There are two leases on the property, which a Land Registry source described as “unusual”.The first one was taken out on October 18, 1991, and lasts until December 25, 2030.The second was taken out on July 29 and runs out in 2055.

The latest lease mysteriously stated: “The airspace above the building is excluded from the title.”

Bakeland Property Company Ltd trustees were originally listed as Jersey-based Hugh Thurston and Leonard Day, her friends and financial advisers. In 2002 The Guardian reported that Bakeland’s shares were held by Mr Day and Mr Thurston. Accountants said they were acting as nominees for a trust with concealed beneficiaries.

As Lady Thatcher did not own the house herself it is possible, depending on the terms of her will, that her children Mark and Carol could benefit.If the property was listed in the name of their mother they would been subject to 40% tax on the entire value of the home – an estimated £2.4m.

Both Mark and Carol visited the house in Chester Square last night.

Tax campaigner Mr Christensen added: “There are huge financial benefits for an offshore company to own a property or leasehold particulaly in connection with stamp duty and inheritance tax.

“A company doesn’t die. If a person dies the property has to be passed on to someone else – obviously this is not the case with a company.

“This can be very beneficial indeed and can save a large amount of money in taxes which would be othewise due.”

The Mirror called the British Virgin Financial Services Commission which confirmed that the company which now owns Thatcher’s house had been based there since August 19, 2005.

The question marks over the Thatcher home come as police in London prepare for demos this weekend following the former Prime Minister’s death on Monday. Anarchists threatened a mass “party” to celebrate her death and protesters say a demonstration in Trafalgar Square today will be a focus for discontent in the run-up to Wednesday’s funeral.

     Mystery of The House on Chester Square

We've been interested in houses in Belgravia before, in connection with the generosity of Saudi businessmen. Mark Thatcher had a home in Eaton Terrace, handy for "Mumsy".  I don't know about bedroom tax but I should not think he'll be affected by the benefits cap.

Paper hit by legal hoax

Lastly, quite unconnected, another mystery, from Croydon. Newsagents and supermarkets across the south London borough were duped into taking the Croydon Advertiser, with front-page stories about Lady Thatcher and Princess Di,  off their shelves, after someone calling themselves "Joanna Lumley" 'phoned to say there was a legal problem.

Not the Joanna Lumley surely? How could anyone imitate that voice and accent?  Or suppose she was working in the local paper's office? Still, whoever it was, it worked. Thanks to the word "legal" the paper lost a whole day's sales.
Advertiser editor Glenn Ebrey said: "I've been in journalism for almost a decade but never heard of anything like this before"

Somebody sabotages the Advertiser

Here I have the advantage over him.

When I was working (unpaid) on the late Workers Press, I wrote a story about one Roger Rosewall, whom I remembered from the Young Socialists, but had made the news as a shadowy adviser to another grocer's daughter, Tesco heiress Dame Shirley Porter. The leader of Westminster city council, notorious for selling off council houses in what became known as "homes for votes" scandal.

With the help of one or two old friends, I traced his career from Socialist Workers Party industrial organiser by way of Ruskin College (!) to helping ex-CP union leader Frank Chapple at the Daily Mail before moving further into the corridors of power, well City Hall at any rate (Though he was not on Westminster's staff officially, and it was reported that they were not supposed to mention him).

Next morning I looked forward to seeing, and selling, the paper with my article, but it was not available. Apparently a certain person, whom I will not embarass by naming, had seen my copy being set, and taken it upon himself to call the printers and some outlets , warning them authoritatively that my article could be considered libellous. Not being a big company with pots of money or on tap lawyers they were worried and stopped the paper going out.

Not till after my late friend Geoff Pilling, the paper's editor (whom they had not 'phoned) heard about this, and checked with a lawyer who knew what he was talking about and said there was noting wrong with my article, did that issue of the paper get out, late in the day.

What was behind all this, besides an absurd nervousness, I don't know. It almost makes me sympathise with the Croydon Advertiser. 

Roger Rosewall gets a mention in the House

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