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When the squatters met nice Mr Tinsdale

New book tells how Westminster Council official inadvertently helped to keep a roof over the heads of an eclectic group living in former embassy building

17 November, 2017

A MR Tinsdale of Westminster Council has inadvertently become the centre of a rather marvellous anecdote in a wonderful new book by musician and writer Dave Tomlin.

Tomlin was a key figure in the Guild of Transcultural Studies, which was based at a squat that for more than a decade could be found in the former Cambodian embassy in Avenue Road, St John’s Wood.

In a new book called Tales From The Embassy, which tells the story of the house and all those who passed through its doors, a chapter describes the role Mr Tinsdale inadvertently played in keeping a roof over the heads of a variety of people in housing need.

The book describes how he one day appeared in the home and introduced himself as the chief accountant at Westminster Council’s rating department, and proceeded to inform the eclectic group of residents that they owed the Town Hall £3,300 per year for staying there.

As Tomlin describes, the ensuing court case was a mixture of vindictive anti-squatting machinations by bureaucrats, who it appeared simply had it in for extremely poor people who lived an alternative lifestyle; some brilliant legal work by sympathetic solicitors; and a magistrate who was interested in the proper procedure, fair play and, it appears, standing up to bullies.

Mr T told the magistrate at the Inns of Court in Holborn that the guild were liable to pay hefty rates, but had the argument dismantled by the squatters’ legal eagle.

He pointed out that because they were a guild they could enjoy rate relief and, furthermore, as they could not be deemed to be in “exclusive and permanent” residence they were also not liable to pay the huge bill.

Tomlin writes beautifully, the material is first class, and he has created a picture of life in central London that feels now like a different age.

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