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John Henderson: Popular West Hampstead figure dies days before he is reunited with his daughter

PUBLISHED: 09:25 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:43 22 May 2019

Rosie Henderson (18) stands by the memorial shrine to her father at the place where he had his bookstall on West End Lane NW6. 20.05.19.

Rosie Henderson (18) stands by the memorial shrine to her father at the place where he had his bookstall on West End Lane NW6. 20.05.19.

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Popular West Hampstead bookseller John Henderson died just days before he was finally due to be reunited with his daughter.

John Henderson Picture:@harryfconwayJohn Henderson Picture:@harryfconway

The Glasgow native sold books near the Thameslink station, and until last year he was often joined by his three-legged Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Sugar. She died last year, and a plaque was erected on the bridge.

His daughter Rosie Henderson-McGirr, who grew up in care, last saw her dad 10 years ago. She spoke to him by phone last week, days before he died.

The 18-year-old told the Ham&High: "Growing up, I was always told that it was better not to see my dad and he wasn't in a good place. I would see him a lot more when I was younger.

"Recently I got in contact with my mum. She rang last week and she was very upset. She put him on the phone and I spoke to him.

A plaque to Sugar, John Henderson's dog who died last year. Picture: Polly HancockA plaque to Sugar, John Henderson's dog who died last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

"He said it would be lovely to see me, and that he missed me and loved me.

"I told him I missed him and loved him as well. We arranged to meet up this week. That was the last conversation we ever had."

While she was initially "angry" as she said she had mixed feelings towards John, she is grateful to her mum for giving them the chance to talk.

She said: "We never got the chance to see each other. If it wasn't for her doing that I would never have had the chance to speak to him again. I'm glad she did now."

John Henderson and Kerry McGirr with books outside West Hampstead Thameslink Station in 2005. Picture: Polly HancockJohn Henderson and Kerry McGirr with books outside West Hampstead Thameslink Station in 2005. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Rosie, who lives in Kent, said she had visited West Hampstead a few months ago with her auntie. She stood over the road from his stall and watched John as he went about his day. "I was very scared, after 10 years," she said. "I didn't know what to do, whether I'd recognise him. I just wanted to know where he was and what he was up to."

She and her elder-brother Steven used to spend time on his book stall when they were children. "It was exciting, seeing where Dad worked," she said. "He showed us where he used to keep his books."

John is believed to have been found dead in the Black Path, an alley near the Thameslink station, on Sunday morning. His death is not being treated as suspicious.

People stop to read the messages at the memorial shrine to John Henderson at the place where he had his bookstall on West End Lane NW6. 20.05.19. Picture: Polly HancockPeople stop to read the messages at the memorial shrine to John Henderson at the place where he had his bookstall on West End Lane NW6. 20.05.19. Picture: Polly Hancock

Tributes have piled up on the bridge where the 49-year-old used to have his stall. He had several nicknames - one "Celtic John," from his football allegiance and another, "Spider," from the tattoo on his stomach.

Rosie visited West Hampstead on Monday. She was delighted by the support. She said: "[It was] overwhelming. It was lovely, with people putting flowers and cards down, and people stopping. He made a lot of people happy. I saw somebody yesterday who said they had spoken to him, and he said he really wanted to see me.
"I was very angry with myself because I always been angry with him and with the situation. I am really gutted, but he is in a happier place now."

Both her and Steven suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and are ambassadors for the charity FASD Awareness. It is caused when a woman drinks while pregnant, affecting the baby's brain.

A friend of John's, Natasha Back, has launched a crowdfunder to raise money for the charity in his memory.

"I can't be any more thankful to Natasha who has organised it. I'm so grateful to people who have donated. It shows how much people cared about him."

A get-together to celebrate John's life will be held at the Alliance Pub, in Mill Lane from 7pm on Wednesday night.

Anyone who wants to contribute to the fundraising for FASD can do so at: https://www.gofundme.com/for-rosie-steven-john-amp-fasd-awareness-se

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