Woman died of heart attack after gynaecologist bungled routine operation
A woman died after a gynaecologist perforated her uterus during a ‘routine’ operation, a hearing was told.
Surinder Venables was due to have three cysts removed at Basildon Hospital, but died after Dr Nikolaos Papanikolaou mistakenly removed part of her bowel.
The 49-year-old, from Basildon, was stabilised after the procedure on September 25, 2008, but suffered further complications and died a month later after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Dr Papanikolaou did not warn the patient of the risks involved, did not carry out the procedure correctly and failed to recognise his mistakes, which resulted in her death, the hearing was told.
He also left swabs in other patients and failed to carry out vital caesareans which, in one case, led to a still birth, it is claimed.
Dr Papanikolaou has admitted the charges in relation to Ms Venables and another patient, but denies a series of other allegations relating to five women while he was working at Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals NHS Trust in Essex between 2008 and 2009.
Alexandra Felix, from the GMC said: ‘This is a case about a doctor who has displayed deficient clinical assessment with outcomes that were sub-optimum. ‘This is not based solely on outcomes but also objectively in his approach to record keeping and what happens to swabs.’
One patient went to see her doctor after Dr Papanikolaou performed a procedure on her and she was left with an unpleasant odour. Miss Felix said: ‘Patient HC began to complain of a very nasty smell and she went to a doctor for examination.
Nurses noticed there were not enough swaps accounted for when examining another patient and again found one had been left inside the woman.
Dr Papanikolaou also failed to perform a caesarean when an obese pregnant woman came into hospital and the child died.
‘A baby was delivered with a cord around its neck and a still birth was recorded,’ said Miss Felix.
‘The overall standard of care fell seriously below standards expected of a specialist registrar.’
The GMC did not become aware of Dr Papanikolaou’s blunders until 2010 when a patient’s father complained to the Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust about the treatment of his daughter when she was giving birth to a baby girl.
Investigations revealed a series of blunders and the doctor’s ‘careless’ approach to record keeping. ‘Dr Papanikolaou’s record keeping in general is of a poor standard. He has shown a tendency to write notes retrospectively,’ said Miss Felix.
‘He has demonstrated mismanagement in decision making in relation to patients. ‘His poor standard of care is demonstrated by the leaving of swabs in patients.’
Dr Papanikolaou is not attending the tribunal and is not represented after his defence withdrew following a submission to adjourn proceedings.
Two-thirds of patients must wait 48 hours to see a GP while a tenth wait two WEEKS
Two thirds of patients do not think their out-of-hours GP is safe, a report warns today. Nearly half of those who had to use their local service within the last two years were unhappy with the standard of care. Almost one in three said they weren’t able to see a doctor even though they specifically asked for a consultation.
A report by the Patients Association today warns that the state of out of hours care is in ‘desperate need of review.’
Concerns have been growing ever since GPs were able to opt-out working evenings and weekends under a controversial contract negotiated in 2004. Many areas now sub-contract care to private firms who have been accused of running services on the cheap to maximise profits.
Last year it emerged that the country’s largest out-of-hours provider, Harmoni, had hired a doctor who turned up to a patient’s house so drunk he could not speak.
The Patients Association surveyed 1,500 patients about their experiences of GP services both during working hours and at evenings and weekends.
A total of 65 per cent said they would not feel safe relying on their out-of-hours services if they had an urgent medical problem. Another 47 per cent were unhappy with care they have received in the last two years and 29 per cent said they couldn’t make contact with a doctor.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said: ‘Public confidence in out-of-hours services is worryingly low and that is not always as easy as it should be to get an appointment with a GP. ‘We need an NHS in every community that operates effectively, safely and compassionately during and outside office hours.’
It also found that 60 per cent of patients had to wait two days before they could get an appointment during normal working hours with 10 per cent waiting longer than a fortnight. And 57 per cent said it was difficult trying to get through on the phone whilst trying to book a consultation.
Some patients were also concerned that their surgeries employed locum GPs who could not speak English. One said: ‘The quality of GPs in East London is extremely poor, with the extensive use of locums whose basic communication skills are poor.. It’s very difficult to specify that you want a female doctor through my practice.’
Another unnamed patient said: ‘Having to phone on the day to get an appointment – being held in a queue on a premium rate phone line only to be told that all appointments have been taken is extremely frustrating.’
One patient described their GP as ‘incompetent’ and said they had resorted to diagnosing their ailments on the internet.
They added: ‘I generally have to find solutions to my health issues via the internet, I would like a GP who was aware that he didn’t know everything, was more prepared to undertake tests and who didn’t tell me results were normal when they weren’t. I regard my GP as incompetent.’
Harmoni, which provides out of hours services for eight million patients, is currently under investigation by the Care Quality Commission over safety concerns.
Last October, seven week old Axel Peanburg King died from pneumonia after staff working for the firm downgraded his case from ‘urgent’ to routine.
The baby was put in a queue behind six other patients in the waiting room. Despite repeated phone-calls and trips to the clinic by his mother Linda, doctors failed to realise he was dangerously ill.
Who will the Man With No Shame blame this time? Up to 30 deaths at one baby hospital. An NHS boss with a £225,000 pay-off. And fears of a cover-up. Now grieving parents call for answers
Legal action against the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay foundation Trust (UHMBT), has been instigated following the deaths of 14 babies and two mothers at Furness in the past decade.
And while the bereaved fight for justice and compensation for their devastating losses, it was revealed this week that the NHS chief who presided over this carnage, Tony Halsall, has received a ‘severance package’ worth £225,000.
During the course of this investigation, the Daily Mail spoke to two law firms — Burnetts, in Cumbria, and Pannone, in Manchester — and discovered they had received dozens of calls from other concerned families.
They have 16 ongoing or settled civil claims between them, ‘many of which,’ says one lawyer, ‘are extremely serious and distressing involving neonatal and maternal deaths’ relating to one small hospital. At least 14 other cases are believed to be under way with other firms.
But what is compounding the tragedy for bereaved parents is the fear that UHMBT covered up the deaths while chasing foundation trust status — an initiative set up by the Labour Government to give trusts a greater degree of independence and more financial freedom.
To some, this will sound eerily familiar. Campaigners believe this tragic tale is a mirror image, albeit on a smaller scale, of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust controversy, in which 1,200 patients died.
Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the National Health Service, is already under pressure to resign over his role in that scandal, which was the subject of the damning Francis report last month.
He was chief of the regional health authority in Staffordshire before his current role. Now he faces the spectre of another independent inquiry into baby deaths at Furness.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), says the parallels between Mid Staffs and Morecambe are clear. ‘It strikes us that Morecambe Bay bears all the hallmarks of what we saw at Mid Staffs. For example, this was a trust striving to achieve foundation trust status and put its own interests before those of patients and their safety.
‘All the bodies that could and should have recognised the problems and intervened failed to do so.
‘What’s more, there is a lack of openness and honesty with both families and regulators, which echoes the finding of the Francis Report that there is a need for a legal duty of candour.’
So what did happen at Morecambe Bay? We know now that concerns began to escalate in 2008 with the death of Alex Davey-Brady and a second baby within just a few weeks.
It was these two deaths — and the highly critical remarks of the coroner at inquests in 2009 and 2011 — that threw a spotlight on other potentially avoidable deaths at Furness.
Alarmingly, between 2008 and 2012, 500 people more than expected (experts have devised a tool to compare average hospital death rates) died in hospitals managed by the Trust. In 2011, it had the highest mortality rate (for all deaths, not just babies) of any trust in England.
These statistics make understandably difficult reading for Liza Brady, from Walney Island, Cumbria.
She was already mother to Tyler, seven, when she discovered she was pregnant for a second time with a boy, who they named Alex.
A report found that ‘team working was dysfunctional’, there was a ‘blame culture’ within the Trust and labour ward facilities were not ‘entirely fit for purpose’
‘We were absolutely delighted when we found out,’ she says. ‘We prepared the nursery, decorated it, his clothes were set up in the wardrobe, we’d even picked out a pram.
‘When we lost Alex I couldn’t bear to enter the nursery. We even had to move house.’
She says she first raised concerns about giving birth when it became clear Alex was going to be a big baby (he was eventually 11lb 13½oz).
‘My first labour hadn’t been a good experience — I haemorrhaged with Tyler — so this time I made my worries known again and again, but it felt like no one was really listening.’
Her concerns escalated when she went to hospital to be induced — the doctor broke her waters accidentally, necessitating a swifter than expected transfer to the labour ward.
There, Liza endured a 12-hour struggle to deliver Alex. His shoulders were so wide that he became stuck in the birth canal.
So traumatised is she that even five years on, she hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since. But here she bravely describes the ordeal of the birth in order to underline how badly she was treated.
‘Because Alex was struggling to come down the birth canal, they had to get a number of people in to try to turn him,’ she says. ‘By then I was begging for a Caesarean section.
‘I had an overwhelming feeling of something not being right,’ her voice trails away as she adds: ‘But I didn’t know he was going to die.
‘I was being ignored, the pain was terrible and I was begging to see the doctor. Eventually, they called one in and just as he popped his head round the door, the midwife shooed him away, saying he wasn’t needed because the baby was going to be born any minute.’
Tragically, Alex was no closer to being born.
When a consultant did return shortly after 9pm, he realised he needed to intervene but then disappeared for half an hour. By the time he came back, it was too late.
Liza Brady said she had an ‘overwhelming feeling of something not being right’ when she was giving birth to her baby
Alex was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and didn’t respond to resuscitation.
Liza says: ‘It was only when a doctor I’d never met before came into the room shaking his head that I knew. My heart just sank. It was the most horrible feeling. Unbearable. I just thought: “Why?” ’
Liza, who has since had a son, Kayden, now three, never even got to hold Alex.
‘My husband cradled him for hours,’ she says. ‘But I couldn’t, I just thought: if I hold him I’m not going to be able to put him down.
‘I touched his chubby cheeks, gave him a kiss, but didn’t hold him. And that still makes me terribly sad.’
At the inquest a year later — where four doctors and four midwives gave evidence — coroner Ian Smith sharply criticised the hospital.
The coroner issued what is known as a Rule 43 letter — instigated when action needs to be taken to prevent future death — demanding answers from the hospital. He said that rather than one team working together, two teams had been operating side-by-side.
‘I don’t believe the doctors integrated — the midwives ran the show,’ he said.
It was while awaiting this inquest that Alex’s parents were first told of other babies dying at the same hospital. One of those was Joshua Titcombe, who died just two months after Alex.
James Titcombe, a 35-year-old engineer and his accountant wife Hoa, 36, were thrilled to be expecting a second child in November 2008.
But Joshua died at nine days old of a lung infection that caused him to bleed to death, even though he could have been cured with antibiotics. Hoa was diagnosed with an infection after birth and Joshua picked it up — but medics failed to detect it until he suddenly deteriorated a day later.
His parents had already questioned whether he should be given antibiotics, but were ignored.
He died after being transferred first to Manchester, then to Newcastle for specialist care.
‘No words can ever describe the pain of seeing and holding our dead baby,’ says James.
According to campaigners, one of the most serious allegations against the Trust is that it suppressed… damning findings of a report
‘He died in the most appalling way you can imagine and we knew mistakes had been made.’
An inquest would eventually hear in 2011 that there were a ‘number of missed opportunities’ to save Joshua, and coroner Ian Smith listed ten failings by staff.
Here was the same coroner, for the second time in three years, demanding action of the same maternity unit.
James Titcombe’s shock at the parallels that run through this saga has long since been replaced by utter disgust at what has unfolded at UHMBT — events he has doggedly fought to uncover.
He says: ‘It feels like it’s been a constant battle from the moment Joshua died.
‘I read the local paper one day and the headline was: “Coroner slams maternity unit.” It was about Alex’s death. I realised it was exactly the same: the midwives ran the show and the doctors didn’t integrate. It’s been like lifting up stone after stone and under each one you find some piece of evidence or secret lurking there.’
What has emerged, in part because of James’s pursuit of answers, is that a study was commissioned on maternity services following Alex’s death, produced after a review led by nursing expert Dame Pauline Fielding.
The 2009 Fielding report found that ‘team working was dysfunctional’, there was a ‘blame culture’ within the Trust and labour ward facilities were not ‘entirely fit for purpose’.
And yet mistakes continued to be made. According to campaigners, one of the most serious allegations against the Trust is that it suppressed the damning findings of this report. Neither the Care Quality Commission nor the regulatory body Monitor saw the report before the granting of the long-awaited foundation trust status.
James is in no doubt that the objective was always to gain the foundation trust status, regardless of the consequences.
He says: ‘I think they cut staff numbers, changed the way they did things without proper risk assessment and, when things went wrong, they covered it up.
A team of 15 detectives have been investigating ‘a number of deaths’ of mothers and babies at the hospital since June 2011
‘There was a spirit of dysfunction and patients started to suffer in an horrific way.’
The inquest into Joshua’s death triggered a further mass of reports and inquiries — 12 so far — by assorted agencies, the majority of which flagged up concerns.
So serious is the scandal that it is now at the centre of a police inquiry. A team of 15 detectives have been investigating ‘a number of deaths’ of mothers and babies at the hospital since June 2011.
Police were present at the Titcombe inquest when the coroner raised concerns that staff had colluded to hide errors.
Even now another CQC ‘independent inquiry’ is under way, and due to report next month into how it handled the regulation of the Trust, and then there is a Health Ombudsman investigation looking into allegations of poor supervision by the Strategic Health Authority.
James, not surprisingly, despairs at the number of missed opportunities. So, too, does 22-year-old mother Kelly Hine. She gave birth to daughter Amelia in April 2011 at Furness General Hospital — time enough you might think for action to have been taken.
Yet Amelia died at less than a day old after inhaling meconium (the waste matter produced by a newborn).
An ongoing civil action is under way looking at the neo-natal care the baby received. The hospital has admitted in a letter to the family’s solicitors that mistakes were made and conceded that had Amelia been treated differently she may have survived.
Kelly, who lives with partner Carl Bower and their daughter Gracie Mai, who is 11 months old, says: ‘I had no idea what had happened to other babies before, but when our tragedy came to light, people started getting in touch with me and telling me about James Titcombe and Liza Brady and what had happened to them.
‘It makes me so sad that, even after four years, things didn’t appear to have changed.’
Kelly is not alone. Documents seen by the Mail make clear that in September 2011 there was another baby death raising similar concerns.
Jackie Daniel, who became chief executive of UHMBT last summer after her beleaguered predecessor Tony Halsall stepped down, says: ‘The new Trust Board is resolute in its determination that this Trust never lets anyone down again in the way it did in the past and we will not accept second best for our patients.
‘Although we can’t change the past, we can learn from it and we will ensure we continue to do so.’ She says the Trust supports a wider inquiry.
However, James Titcombe, who has two daughters, Emily, eight, and Jessica, three, refuses to give up the fight for clarity. Through meticulous freedom-of-information requests and persistent questioning, he continues to uncover more information about the extent of the failings.
‘It’s not just for Joshua, it’s for everybody,’ he says. ‘When you learn about other cases and lessons that haven’t been learned, you have got no choice but to carry on.
‘I think the Trust has made improvements, which is great. But they haven’t got to the root of what went wrong.
‘To guarantee that this never happens again, they need to have a full inquiry.’
In the meantime, James and these other grieving parents live in hope that some good will come from their loss.
Revealed: Socialist links of academics trying to sabotage British reforms of the school curriculum
A coalition of Left-wing academics yesterday tried to sabotage Michael Gove’s reform of the national curriculum by claiming it would doom children to ‘failure and demoralisation’. The group warned that ‘mountains of data’ pupils are expected to learn will ‘severely erode educational standards’.
The ‘endless lists of spelling, facts and rules’ will narrow the experience of learning, they said, as it does not allow children to develop ‘problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity’.
They argued that the Education Secretary’s blueprint for education in England will lead to a ‘dumbing down’ of standards.
The blistering attack appeared in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph and the Independent yesterday.
But it quickly became clear the 100 academics – all of whom are professors of education or lecture in the subject at universities – were predominantly Left-wing ideologists with links to trade unions, socialists and the Labour Party.
The organiser of the letter, Terry Wrigley, a visiting professor at Leeds Metropolitan University, is a regular contributor to publications Socialist Worker and Socialist Review.
Other signatories include Meg Maguire, professor of sociology and education at King’s College London and a member of the Hillcole Group of Radical Left Educators, and Professor Dave Hill, a professor in education at Anglia Ruskin University who has been a general election candidate for Labour and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
A source close to Mr Gove accused the group of bringing about the ‘systematic devaluation of exams’ by ‘peddling unscientific nonsense about the curriculum’ for decades.
The academics said high-achieving education systems, such as those in Finland and Massachusetts, promote ‘critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning’. They claim English children would be under pressure to learn ‘too much, too young’.
The new curriculum is intended to usher in a back-to-basics approach to education, described by Mr Gove as arming children with the ‘fundamental building blocks’ needed to learn.
In maths, children will begin fractions from the age of five and know their 12-times table by nine.
There will be a greater emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation in English, with poems recited in front of classmates from age five.
One of the most contentious subjects is history, which will cover events chronologically from the Stone Age to the Cold War. Critics have claimed the focus on key dates and characters risks creating a ‘monochrome’ list of goodies and baddies and will be biased towards white British men.
For the first time pupils will also learn an ancient or modern language from the age of seven. The curriculum is far shorter than the one introduced by Labour and was intended to give teachers more leeway in how they taught.
But the academics argued it ‘betrays a serious distrust of teachers in its amount of detailed instructions’.
They wrote: ‘Much of it demands too much, too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored.’
The curriculum is out for consultation until April. So far, nearly 6,000 responses have been submitted.
Even scientists are cooling on climate change
By: Ann Widdecombe, British parliamentarian
WHAT do Peter Lilley, Andrew Tyrie, Philip Davies Christopher Chope and I have in common? We were the only MPs to vote against the 2008 Climate Change Bill, which is to say we had by then considered all the evidence and found it wanting.
For years we have endured insults.
Behind the scenes Fiona Bruce, normally the most courteous of broadcasters, called me a “flat-earther” to my face.
Others branded us “deniers” as if we were disputing the holocaust. The Al Gore film was accorded the status of Holy Writ. David Bellamy lost his job. Doubting scientists were scorned.
Nigel Lawson found it difficult to get his book An Appeal To Reason published. Others branded us “deniers” as if we were disputing the holocaust
In short there was an orthodoxy which was enforced with all the rigour of communism or fascism or, for that matter, the Spanish Inquisition. Dissenters must not be heard and global warming became a religion.
Well the dissenters have now been proved right.
Heaven knows how many billions of pounds later the world is now being told that actually the warming is so far off predictions that all bets are off and indeed the world’s temperature is static or falling.
So all those wind farms were in vain, as were all those expensive carbon-saving measures inflicted on industry and passed on in costs to you and me.
If I could tell that from the published Hadley Centre figures, the scientists must have known for years yet only now do they admit it. Why?
Heaven forbid that it should be because of all that money tied up in their research.
British budget 2013: George Osborne vows to ‘make shale gas happen’ despite fracking concerns
Controversial “fracking” has won backing from the Government after Chancellor George Osborne used his Budget to promise a generous new tax regime for extracting shale gas.
Mr Osborne said “shale gas is part of the future and we will make it happen”, as he unveiled measures to support the new industry, including gas field allowances to promote early investment in the sector.
Shale gas is exploited through drilling into rock and fracturing it with high pressure liquid to extract the gas – a process known as fracking.
Supporters say shale gas production in the UK could provide a cheap, secure source of energy, but opponents are worried about the possibility of earthquakes and water pollution caused by fracking. It could also lead to the development of shale wells in the countryside, potentially threatening house prices, and will make it harder for the UK to meet goals to cut emissions and tackle climate change, they argue.
The Chancellor said proposals would be developed to ensure that local communities would benefit from shale gas projects in their area.
But the Government will be keeping under review whether the largest projects could have the option to apply for the go-ahead through a central Government process rather than via local authorities.
Neil Sinden, The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s director of policy, said: “We will make sure communities are not sidelined in the decision-making process, if we move beyond the exploration phase, and that the beauty and tranquility of the countryside aren’t compromised by intrusive development related to shale gas.”
Environmental groups were quick to criticise the Chancellor’s support for fossil fuels.
John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, said: “We got tax breaks for polluters and almost complete disinterest in the green economy, one of the only sectors that has consistently delivered jobs and growth in recent years.
“British businesses stand poised to become dominant forces in the global clean energy market, but they’re being undermined by a Chancellor who seems increasingly ill-suited to the times we live in. This man lacks a vision.”
Andrew Pendleton, Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, said: “Shale gas is not the solution to rising energy bills – it’s dirty, unnecessary and its extraction will have an earth-shattering impact on local communities across the UK.”
So much money but not a shred of taste! As a £65million home goes on sale with a purple cinema and more marble than the Taj Mahal, A.N. Wilson laments the vulgarity of Britain’s super-rich
I suppose there is an element of snobbery in the article below — and taste is after all entirely subjective — but I have some sympathy with the conclusions nonetheless. One expects to see such a lovely old house filled with warm and comfortable things that have accumulated over many years. To find an interior that looks like the most ostentatious modern hotel is a shock and a sacrilege
Those of you having difficulty selling your house — and feeling sore at the idea of dropping the price by the odd £10,000 — spare a thought for property magnate Andreas Panayiotou, who has just been persuaded by estate agent Knight Frank to swallow a drop of £35 million.
Heath Hall, his 14-bedroom mansion on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead, North London, could now be yours for an absolute snip. For you, my friend, just £65 million.
While you shake out your piggy bank to see if you can rustle up the readies, let me tell you what you would get for your money: a 25ft swimming pool, with a fully equipped gym and sauna, bathrooms thick with Italian marble, plus a private cinema as well as luxury bedrooms and kitchens.
There is a climate-controlled wine cellar where you can store all your fine vintages (it has room for 600 bottles, so do feel free to invite some friends round), an entrance hall which would seem over-the-top in a royal palace and a billiards room.
There’s just one drawback — glaringly obvious to anyone with taste, but perhaps not apparent to the owner. It is hideous.
Heath Hall was constructed in the Edwardian era for sugar magnate William Park Lyle. He was the ‘& Lyle’ bit of Tate & Lyle.
When he built it, you can be sure that although he was ‘new money’, he would have aped old taste.
The oak-panelled hall and rooms would have had thick oriental carpets and the furniture would have put you in mind of an old English country house.
Andreas Panayiotou has chosen a different path. He has gone for sheer swanky opulence. It is what I would call gold taps syndrome.
Bathrooms at Heath Hall have more marble than your average Italian high altar. But though tons of stone have been excavated from the best quarries to make them, they have not one ounce of personality.
The cinema, with its pale purple walls and matching lilac sofas, reminds me of the swankiest restaurants in modern St Petersburg, where the Russian oligarchs hang out with their expensive women. It is as impersonally hideous as a brothel. (In fact, those St Petersburg restaurants often turn out to be brothels!)
Heath Hall’s hallway probably looks, to the proud owner and to the designer, like Hollywood’s stateliest.
But it sure as hell does not look like an English stately.
It simply yells: ‘I’m rich — Very rich! My chandelier is bigger than your chandelier! I’m richer than you can imagine!’
Estate agent Tony Abrahmsohn, who specialises in the area, says that the world’s mega-rich believe The Bishops Avenue is one of the swankiest addresses in England, a sign to potential overseas billionaire buyers that they have really arrived.
It may be a sign that you have arrived, but it is also a sign that you have not, as it were, unpacked. In other words, you are not ready to be presented to polite society.
Bernie Ecclestone, Joan Collins, and Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian businessman said to be the richest man in England, have all owned houses in The Bishops Avenue.
Yet though their purchases make us gasp, though we might aspire to some of their wealth, they do not exactly fill most normal people with the smallest flicker of envy. In fact, when someone such as Tamara Ecclestone announces that she has spent £1 million on a crystal bath tub for her £50 million home, we feel revulsion.
In this country, with its proud tradition of Empire and industry, we are no strangers to the rich. But on the whole, when big industrial magnates made money in the past, they tried to ape the taste and manners of the aristocracy.
One of the first industrial millionaires in England was Josiah Wedgwood, patriarch of Britain’s finest pottery.
He immediately built the poshest house you could imagine — Etruria Hall in Staffordshire. (He even invented a version of the first indoor lavatories for it).
But although, like all self-made men, Wedgwood wanted to flaunt his wealth by having a big house, he also had perfect taste.
That was how he had made his money, after all. So he built a house for himself which was like the house of a duke or an earl — only with better vases.
We used to mock American vulgarity, and imagine that spectacularly ugly houses, such as Elvis Presley’s Gracelands or Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, could only happen over there.
But that is no longer true. I once had a university friend who, rather to everyone’s surprise, married a modern, super-rich member of the international jet-set.
They moved into one of these Bishops Avenue houses, and I visited them there a few times.
It was surely symptomatic that I could never guess whether they had bought the house or it was rented; whether they owned the furniture or it came with the property. All personality was absent.
My friends long ago decamped to America. I often drive down The Bishops Avenue where their palace and Mr Panayiotou’s mansion are to be found — not because I mix with the oligarchs, but because it is a good short cut to my daughter’s school.
Mega-rich Salman Rushdie lives here, or used to, with his pointless squillions, and Andreas Panayiotou may be the richest property developer in the road, but he is not the only one.
It is a true billionaire’s row. Huge houses cower behind electrically operated high railings, and German shepherd dogs prowl to keep out nosy intruders such as myself.
This is where the super-rich trade homes like commodities.
During the first Gulf war, the Saudi royal family bought ten of the street’s mansions for use as boltholes in case they were deposed. In recent years, the Russian and East European oligarchs have arrived as they move their billion-dollar oil and metal fortunes out of Russia.
What the houses, and specially designed yachts, car interiors and private jets of the super-rich all have in common is a lack of taste. I choose my words with care.
It is not so much that they are in crashingly ‘bad taste’. Bad taste is at least ‘taste’ of some sort, and can be expressive of personality. These owners do not actually have taste, as such, at all.
These places are not homes, they are exercises in self-promotion and self-advertisement.
Whereas you and I, when deciding how to decorate our rooms, will express certain aspects of our personalities, the super-rich compulsively want to advertise the size of their bank accounts.
Such people have seldom spent much of their lives making friends — they are too busy making money — so they will not model their newly acquired houses on those of anyone they have known.
Once they have enough, they show off by luxuriating in the most expensive hotels. Their houses reflect this: they live in homes that seem to be modelled on them and are as soulless as only a luxury hotel can be.
There is actually something terribly sad about Heath Hall, and houses like it. Not one inch of its huge square footage has been chosen because it is home-like. Not one stick of the furniture belongs to the owner’s own past.
In his scabrous diaries, the former Tory Defence minister Alan Clark quoted Chief Whip Michael Jopling on their Cabinet colleague and self-made millionaire Michael Heseltine.
‘The trouble with Michael,’ said Jopling, ‘is that he had to buy all his furniture.’
It was a comment that only a snob could have made — but there was some truth in it.
Andreas Panayiotou will never be able to look across a shabby bit of carpet or battered chair owned by his grandmother, or see his father’s old clock ticking on the mantelpiece.
Even the antiques will have been bought as if they were brand-new.
How different from the rooms at Balmoral which we glimpsed on the recent programme about the Queen, where she unpretentiously kicked straight a two-bar electric fire and where there is a homely mix of family photographs in frames, old furniture and well-trodden tartan carpets.
Of course, the mention of Balmoral will make some readers say that bad taste has always been with us.
The last Liberal Prime Minister in Queen Victoria’s reign, Lord Rosebery, used to say that he thought the drawing room at Osborne — the Queen’s house on the Isle of Wight — was the ugliest room he had ever seen until he saw the drawing room at Balmoral.
Lord Rosebery, who came from a world of ‘old money’, looked down his nose at these two newly built royal palaces.
But if a snob like Rosebery sneered at the Queen’s taste, at least it was taste he was sneering at. Whereas the soulless houses of today’s mega-rich are tasteless in every sense of the word.
British council forced to scrap unisex toilets at its new £50m offices after complaints from staff
When they moved into their purpose-built £50million offices, the council staff of Rochdale had high hopes for the lavatories. Instead, the new facilities caused a revolt – because they are unisex.
Some workers at the new headquarters were aggrieved at the idea of men and women using the same cubicles.
Now, the gender ratio on each floor of the building will be analysed before individual toilets are allocated proportionately as either male or female.
It all adds up to the town’s biggest toilet fiasco since its shopping mall introduced squat loos in the name of cultural sensitivity three years ago.
The new offices, named Number One Riverside, were built to accommodate 2,000 council staff.
However, the first batch of workers to transfer to the new building were shocked to find it lacked separate toilet facilities.
Helen Harrison, Unison’s Rochdale branch secretary, said council staff have raised concerns. ‘People do have different views on it but there are a number of people who are upset about the unisex issue,’ she said.
‘I think what the council is looking at doing now is tallying up the ratio of male and female workers on each floor and will split up the toilets that way.’ Each floor of the building has around eight toilet cubicles opening off a corridor, all currently with male and female symbols on the door.
‘They are fully enclosed with their own washing and drying facilities, rather than communal ones.
Nevertheless some staff have apparently baulked at the idea of using cubicles frequented by members of the opposite sex.
Last night Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s bizarre that council bosses pressed ahead with unisex loos despite a clear lack of demand for them.
‘This is a perfect example of politically correct thinking trumping common sense at the expense of everyone else.’
Unisex toilets first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s American TV series Ally McBeal where they were the setting for gossip and romantic encounters between her lawyer colleagues.
As a compromise, cubicles at Rochdale council’s building will now be allocated as male or female.
Operational services director Mark Widdup said: ‘The building was intended to have unisex toilets on the office floors, as is the norm in many modern buildings.
‘However, based on staff feedback who have been based in the building for several weeks and discussions with the unions, we’ve decided to review these facilities.’
The building also houses the town’s new library and has space for private firms. The council says it will save £1million a year by having workers in one modern location as well as giving a better service to local people.
In 2010 there was amazement when Rochdale’s Exchange mall installed two squat toilets after bosses were told some of the town’s Asian and Eastern European communities preferred them.
A hunched ball of scowling red crossness, comrade Jim wants to ban us Press parasites
First they came for the parliamentary sketchwriters. Twelve hours after the Commons voted to kill the ancient freedoms of England’s Press, Scots-socialist lovely Jim Sheridan (Lab, Paisley) suggested that journalists who show insufficient respect to MPs should be booted off the premises.
Calling such scribes ‘a parasitical element’, he growled: ‘They abuse their position, hiding behind their pens and calling people names. I don’t know why they’re allowed here.’
Mr Sheridan has long been one of the sketchwriting guild’s best clients. He is just such fun to describe, a hunched ball of scowling, scarlet crossness, steaming like a Chinaman’s laundry.
Not for Comrade Jim those cheap narcotics of optimism and New Testament pleasantry. Nae!
This one broods, crabbit and bealin’ as they say in Glasgow, a boiling walloper, kicker of cans, forever talking mince. I love him to bits but fear the fondness is not always reciprocated. He once accused us of ‘abusing the premises’. All we had done was take the rise out of his mate Michael Martin, ex-speaker. [“Gorbals Mick”]
Normally one would ignore the old booby but the context of his remark yesterday and its tone makes it instructive. It illustrates wider reasons for the leftist elite’s antipathy to Fleet Street.
He made it at a culture select committee (yes! knuckle-chewer Jim is on the culture committee – isn’t it a hoot?) and they were discussing Press regulation.
Before him sat three critics of the Press, among them the champion orgy-goer and bottom-spanker Max Mosley. Such, readers, are the leagues to which your legislature has sunk.
Until Mr Sheridan’s little soliloquy I had been gripped by the verbal tics and fingertips of Thrasher Mosley. He kept prefacing interventions with the words ‘If I may’, uttered in a posh-tortoise drawl straight from Downton Abbey.
Such daintiness from one so nakedly authoritarian. Do you think he says ‘If I may’ to the popsies at his ‘parties’?
The ends of Mr Mosley’s fingers bent inwards. In a better life he might have made a leg-spinner. Instead he has chosen the path of immoral rectitude.
He flared indignant, when challenged by splendid Philip Davies (Con, Shipley). Mr Davies thought any claim of the Mosley-ites, if we may call them that, to be acting on the side of the angels in this Press row was ‘quite disingenuous, quite laughable’. He reckoned they were more concerned in helping rich celebrities to gag the media.
Mr Mosley with clipped irritation said: ‘Don’t say I’m not straight!’ Straight, eh?
Alongside Mr Mosley sat Brian Cathcart, minor academic, and Hugh Tomlinson, barrister, from the Hacked Off group. They were delighted with the new anti-Press legislation, Mr Tomlinson licking his Robert Morley lips and spreading his chubby fingers flat on the desk before him. Under brisk questioning from Conor Burns (Con, Bournemouth W) about their involvement in Sunday night’s secretive talks with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, the Hacked Off men wobbled.
Mr Burns wanted to know where the pressure group’s money came from. Should we not be told? After all, they were now mixing in the highest counsels of the kingdom. It is the modern version of beer and sandwiches.
Full details of Hacked Off’s donors were not furnished.
Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter, once content to serve in the Murdoch-consorting government of Tony Blair) kept laughing theatrically, hoping to belittle the questioning. And then came Mr Sheridan’s tour de farce.
The words rose from the murky depths, down in the tripe linings of Vesuvius’s belly. Glurp! Out they shot, purple-hot projectiles of bile, their master sitting there with chin to chest, balefulness in an off-the-peg suit.
Why should journalists be allowed to watch MPs at Westminster? Why should their impertinence to parliamentarians be tolerated? Kick ’em out!
He has a point in some ways. You do not have to be there in the flesh to see what a donkey Jim Sheridan is. Via the electric television set, it is just as obvious from a distance of many a country mile.
‘Jedi Knights could perform ceremonies’: Free Church of Scotland hits out at government plans to create third category of marriage
Good to hear from the Wee Frees. My own Presbyterian background tended in the Wee Free (fundamentalist) direction
Plans to redefine marriage in Scotland could mean that Jedi Knights could perform ceremonies, a church has claimed.
The Free Church of Scotland has described plans by the Scottish Government to create a third category of marriage as ‘completely nonsensical’ ahead of a consultation on the proposals later this week.
Reiterating its opposition to gay marriage, the Free Church said today that the proposals to establish ‘belief’ ceremonies alongside religious and civil ones could raise the prospect of Star Wars Jedi officiating marriage.
But the government defended its plans saying that the reputation of Scottish marriage would be protected and that the move would help groups such as humanists who are classed as a religious entity.
A spokesman for the Free Church said: ‘The proposal to create a third category of belief marriage ceremony alongside the current religious and civil ones is an indication of the increasing confusion that we can expect in the coming months and years.
‘Humanists are already able to perform marriages under the religious category and we see no reason why this should not continue. ‘Instead we are faced with the Scottish Government seeking to create a new category for something which already happens under the current system, which is completely nonsensical.
‘We would also question whether this category only includes humanists or will it allow for any belief? ‘Could the Jedi Knights or members of the Flat Earth Society be registered as belief celebrants?
‘We believe that once the legislation is passed, the issues and complications will not go away.’
The Scottish Government said however, that it would protect marriage by ensuring that a religious or belief body would have to meet a number of tests before a ceremony can take place.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Our current consultation covers not only the introduction of same-sex marriage but also the detail of important protections in relation to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech and education.
‘As part of the consultation, we have outlined the reason for suggesting a third type of ceremony.
‘At the moment, marriage ceremonies by bodies such as humanists have been classed as religious, even though the beliefs are non-religious.
‘It also makes clear that we are determined to ensure the continued reputation of Scottish marriage ceremonies. We are proposing the introduction of tests which a religious or belief body would have to meet before they could be authorised to solemnise marriage.’
The Free Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian and Reformed denomination. It currently has over 100 congregations in Scotland, as well as two in London, five in North America, and sister churches founded by mission work in India, Peru and South Africa.
In the 2011 Census, around 14,000 Scots named their religion as Jedi, inspired by characters from the fictional Star Wars films.
Jedi values have often found themselves adopted as modern philospohical path or religion, with movements such as the controversial Jediism spawned.
A knights school in San Francisco California also offers classes in Jedi skills.
Miser Mick is right not to help out his children
Mick Jagger’s long been said to be mean with money. It’s a nasty trait — those who have it tend also to have a meanness of spirit.
For this reason, I sympathise with Jerry Hall, who’s locked in a battle with her ex over Downe House, the £10 million Richmond property that’s been her family home since 1991 but which Jagger has never signed over to her.
Now she wants to be able to sell up so that she can give some money to their three eldest children — Lizzie, 29, James, 27 and Georgia May, 21 — to buy homes of their own.
Jagger opposes the idea on the grounds that his children have already had a privileged upbringing and should make their way into the world without any help from him. And though it pains me to admit it, I think he’s right.
For whatever our incomes, too many children have come to expect that their parents will ease their financial burdens at every opportunity, indulging them in a way our own parents would never have dreamed of doing for us.
The truth, I’m afraid, is that many of today’s pampered teens won’t contemplate getting out of their beds on a Saturday or Sunday morning to do anything that sounds like work.
But dare to suggest they might like to work to pay for the longed-for concert ticket or Topshop must-have, and they look at you as though you’re asking them to shin up chimneys.
No wonder newsagents complain that they simply can’t find youngsters to do paper rounds.
The change within just one generation is extraordinary. I had my first Saturday job at 13 — starting at 8am in a bakery (later graduating to working in a jeweller’s) — and continued to work right through until my A-levels, school holidays included.
Apart from pocket money, I never expected my parents to give me anything extra, partly because they weren’t wealthy but mostly because it simply wasn’t the way things were done.
My friends and I all understood that we had to work for what we wanted, whether that was going on holiday on our own for the first time or buying our first cars.
By contrast, today’s school-leavers are all too frequently still dependent on their parents for everything from handouts to somewhere to live. Some of my friends whose children have moved back home after university say that not only are they letting them off paying for their keep, but they often give them spending money, too.
We all mean well. Why charge your adult child rent when you know he’s saving for a house deposit?
Why insist your teenager gets a Saturday job when you know the academic pressure he’s under to pass exams? Why refuse to buy your daughter that longed-for ticket to a music festival when you know all her friends’ parents will be shelling out?
It doesn’t end there, either. Many young couples today don’t even contemplate getting married until they can afford to live in homes that wouldn’t disgrace an interiors magazine. If I’d had the same attitude, I wouldn’t have been able to marry until my 40s. As it was, my daughter was born in a one-bedroom flat furnished from junk shops, and had to sleep in the hallway.
But by constantly opening our wallets, we’re doing our children no favours in the long term. What they don’t realise — and what our well-intended cushioning is failing to teach them — is that out of necessity comes not only invention but, even more crucially, drive and determination.
So what if you can’t get the job of your dreams? Get another one instead and work your way up from there. And if you can only afford a damp-ridden basement with fungus growing on the ceiling? You’ll survive — and it’s a powerful incentive to work all hours until you can afford something better.
As Mick Jagger so memorably sang: ‘You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.’
Internet sites targeted by Britain for first time ‘in chilling threat to free speech’… but could bloggers also face huge damages in Press crackdown?
The internet will be targeted for the first time as the ‘chilling’ Royal Charter attempts to curb free speech on the majority of websites and blogs, experts warned today.
The draft version of the document also suggests that foreign-based or owned websites such as Twitter, Huffington Post, Facebook, Holy Moly, the Guido Fawkes political site and even The New York Times will also be subject to the stifling controls if their articles are aimed at ‘an audience in the UK’.
But as confusion mounted about exactly who would be covered, the government said it would leave it entirely up to the new regulator to decide whether major foreign sites should be made to sign up. It also claimed that ‘small’ blogging sites would be exempt.
Lawyers say large foreign organisations could, like newspapers, be pursued for ‘exemplary’ damages of up to £1million in defamation and other cases if they failed to abide by its rules – even if they have their business or servers in other countries like America and Ireland.
Even if they won a libel case in the High Court they could also be blocked from claiming back any legal costs under the proposed rules, meaning these huge financial penalties could be an incentive for them to sign up.
The document says: ‘The new rules would cover newspapers, magazines and websites containing “news-related material”, even if the websites are not connected to a printed paper or journal.
The Royal Charter also states that it will cover ‘news-related material’ including current affairs news and information, opinion and ‘gossip about celebrities, other public figures and other persons in the news’.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: ‘The fact that in the proposed regulation all things and all people are covered, is very disturbing.
‘That is your blog, your forum, your twitter feed, your Facebook page, in fact almost the whole of contemporary discourse. The only place left to speak out will be in the pub… and they are closing at 10 a week due to a series of ill thought out government measures’.