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Highgate Cemetery boss faces 'hyprocrite' claims

PUBLISHED: 14:07 07 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 07 September 2010

"Mums Army" @ Highgate Cemetery Judith Yuille,Jean Pateman & Hilary Deeble-Rogers

Pic by Nigel Sutton 17 Redington Rd London NW3 7QX 020 7794 3008 e.mail n.sutton@btinternet.com

Susanna Wilkey The boss of Highgate Cemetery has been accused of hypocrisy after helping a bestselling American author to base her latest novel on the burial ground. Friends of Highgate Cemetery chairwoman Jean Pateman last month criticised London Mayor

Susanna Wilkey

The boss of Highgate Cemetery has been accused of hypocrisy after helping a bestselling American author to base her latest novel on the burial ground.

Friends of Highgate Cemetery chairwoman Jean Pateman last month criticised London Mayor Boris Johnson for listing the cemetery as a key London attraction.

Mrs Pateman said that the venue was first and foremost a cemetery rather than a tourist attraction.

But critics say visitor numbers will greatly increase after the publication of Audrey Niffenegger's latest offering, Her Fearful Symmetry, in the autumn.

Niffenegger wrote Richard and Judy book club favourite The Time Traveler's Wife, which has now been made into a Hollywood film.

Friend Caroline Coombes said: "Any media coverage of Highgate Cemetery will increase visitors and I think it is a matter for the whole Highgate community.

"If you are getting thousands of visitors pouring into Highgate, it will have an effect on people as well as the cemetery.

"Mrs Pateman has made an incredible error of judgement.

"It is extraordinary that she says there are too many visitors while at the same time helping Audrey Niffenegger with this book which will inevitably bring lots of people to the cemetery."

Mrs Pateman, who has been accused of treating the cemetery like her own back garden, refuted the claims saying the cemetery is in a position to regulate what goes on.

"Anybody who writes anything about Highgate Cemetery gets in touch with this office," she said.

"We usually say that we would like to look at the text first.

"She is a very respectable writer and she is also raising a considerable amount of money to restore our records here."

When asked what would happen if visitor numbers increased, Mrs Pateman said: "A lot of people cannot come to Highgate Cemetery - we have a sign saying that we cannot accept everyone.

"If and when we decide to change the current policy, the Ham&High will be notified."

The book was one of the many topics which came up at the Friends' AGM last week when the resolution to limit the time board members could serve was also defeated.

The charity is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission after a series of disagreements within the Friends with members expressing concern over the way the board, and especially the chairwoman, govern the Grade I site where Karl Marx, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti lie.

Among the allegations are that visitors are often rudely turned away and that there is a constant threat of expulsion for members who show dissent. There are also concerns over the board's election process.

The proposal to limit the time the trustees could serve, which if passed would have seen Mrs Pateman step down next year, was defeated by a vote of 82 for and 91 against.

Friend Sue Berdy said: "I have never before come across a board resolution which has been defeated. There were only about 60 people at the meeting so a huge number of votes were proxy, the majority of which I believe were held by the chairwoman.

"The AGM was packed with the grey-haired crowd and they shouted abuse at anyone who was asking questions.

"It was a very hostile and intimidating atmosphere."

Ms Berdy also criticised the trustee election process, saying there was no need for people to actually vote against certain candidates.

"Not surprisingly the three hand-picked candidates were elected to the board," she said. "But the huge vote against the three other candidates was very surprising and completely unwarranted.

"These three candidates have worked very hard for the cemetery as guides, fundraising and updating the tour information and archives, and the huge vote against them was completely unwarranted and disgraceful."

Chairwoman Mrs Pateman said: "It was a good meeting, well attended and our people were represented from all over the world - not just the people who came to the meeting.


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