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War declared on Highgate Cemetery boss

PUBLISHED: 11:01 27 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:08 07 September 2010

Tan Parsons A LONG running row over the management of Highgate cemetery has resulted in the volunteers who run it being reported to the Charity Commission. The investigation follows a series of disagreements within the Friends of Highgate Cemetery with s

Tan Parsons

A LONG running row over the management of Highgate cemetery has resulted in the volunteers who run it being reported to the Charity Commission.

The investigation follows a series of disagreements within the Friends of Highgate Cemetery with some members expressing concern over the way the board, led by chairwoman Jean Pateman, governs the grade II-listed site where Karl Marx is buried.

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

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "Concerns have been raised with us about the governance of the charity, Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust which we are currently considering. We are providing advice and guidance to the charity."

Friend of the cemetery for 25 years, Caroline Coombes, is one of those supporting the Charity Commission probe.

She said: "People are terrified of Jean Pateman and are terrified about being expelled if they speak out. I can't tell you how many emails I have had from volunteers - mainly young people who work at the cemetery."

In 2006 the Lonely Planet Guide warned visitors to beware the brigade of ''stroppy silver-haired ladies'' who run the cemetery.

Last week Ms Pateman spoke to the Ham&High about her criticism of Boris Johnson after he listed Highgate Cemetery as a top London attraction.

She called for it to be a resting place for the dead rather than a tourist attraction. But hundreds of visitors each year want to take the pilgrimage to the cemetery seen as a British counterpart to the famous French cemetery, Pere Lachaise, where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried.

At the charity's annual general meeting in 2008 former Protector of Highgate Cemetery Robin Fairlie put forward a motion calling for a limit on the term that can be served by trustees. This is due to be considered at next Wednesday's AGM.

He said: "We were not getting the kind of positive responses we wanted from the board. We wanted more concrete plans for the future - plans that look ahead for the next five or 10 years, instead of running the cemetery on a day-to-day basis."

On Tuesday Mrs Pateman told the Ham&High the complaints to the Charity Commission were scurrilous rubbish invented by people who were "not at the sharp end of the coalface".

She said: "The Charity Commission and the Inland Revenue and so on have all been to see us regularly over the last 20 years and have expressed satisfaction.

"The Charity Commission is obliged to get involved when someone writes to them - whether that person is trying to be helpful or otherwise. They always have to take into account the public's concerns.

"We do know that we are not the only charity where people raise concerns - legitimate or not. I am the servant of the community and I am happy to cooperate with people if they go via legitimate channels."

Highgate Society member Michael Hammerson rallied behind Mrs Pateman. He said: "It is only through Jean Pateman's indomitable persistence and efforts that the cemetery has survived for the public to enjoy."

Those buried at Highgate cemetery include George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Michael Faraday and Douglas Adams. Most recently, poisoned Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was buried in a lead coffin to avoid radiation leaks.


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