Saturday 14 May 2011

Miners' union takes legal action to evict Arthur Scargill from his £1.5m luxury apartment

He was never known for compromise and neither were the men he led into one of the most epic industrial battles.

So when Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers found themselves at loggerheads the struggle was always going to be drawn out and messy.

Embarrassingly for a radical socialist who long railed against the perks and privileges of the elite, the new confrontation is over a £1.5million luxury flat in the City of London.

The retired union chief, who was defeated by Margaret Thatcher in the miners’ strike of 1984 and 1985, claims his members have to fund his pied a terre until he dies.

But the union disagrees and is taking legal action to remove the perk.

The spacious three-bedroom flat, in the fashionable Barbican centre, costs the NUM £34,000 a year in rent and bills, and was first provided for Mr Scargill, 73, in 1982, when he regularly had to visit the capital.

By the time he retired as president of the NUM in 2002, a clause had found its way into his contract guaranteeing him free use of the flat for the rest of his life.

Yet the NUM, which boasted more than 400,000 members in the days when coal was king, now has fewer than 1,700 miners on its books.
The issue centres around a £1.5 million luxury flat in the Barbican

That means each of them is paying £20 a year out of their subs to provide the flat for their former leader, who owns a detached cottage in his home town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Mr Scargill, who remains honorary president of the NUM, has refused to compromise.

Last night NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen said he had no option but to take action.

Funds are so low that last year the union, based in Barnsley, even decided to do without a president to cut costs.

Mr Kitchen said: ‘We’ve never before had a retired official who’s got his own home, but still wants the union to rent him a second home in London. It’s regrettable we’re having to wash our dirty linen in public, but unfortunately Arthur isn’t known for backing down and compromising. But neither is the NUM.’

He added: ‘The union is now seeking through the courts to determine its legal obligations with regard to providing Arthur with a flat in London for the rest of his life.

‘Myself and the rest of the national executive committee are accountable to the members for expenditure of their money.

‘While the way Arthur obtained the flat in 1982 was all above board, some time along the line it turned into a contractual term for life. I’m sure we’d all like a weekend flat in London, but we’re not convinced that’s legally binding on the NUM.

‘He’s got his interpretation and he won’t compromise. So we’ll have to decide it through the courts, we’ve no option.’

Mr Kitchen, 44, who pays out of his own pocket for the ‘ordinary’ house he shares with his wife in Castleford, near Leeds, continued: ‘Relationships are now strained between me and Arthur.

‘But we’re paying £34,000 for his flat in rent, rates, electricity, telephones, car parking and storage costs. Our responsibility to pay that for the rest of his life somehow manifested itself into the last contract of employment he worked under, produced a couple of months before he retired in 2002.

‘The question is whether the people who put it in the contract – and it involves some who have since died – had the authority to do that without the knowledge and agreement of the national executive committee.’

Heyday: Arthur Scargill, left, led the miners' strike against Mrs Thatcher's Tory government in 1984. The workers eventually went back to work with nothing to show for their action

Last night Mr Scargill did not appear to be at his Barnsley residence. A woman who answered the intercom at his Barbican flat said he was not in, and refused to comment further.

Mr Scargill’s long-term companion is his former press officer Nell Myers, now in her sixties. He and his wife Anne separated in 1998 and divorced in 2001.

When the flat issue was first raised last year, Mr Scargill said: ‘Every one of my predecessors has been allowed to remain in their properties following retirement.
‘There are many people who have two homes.

‘I have a rented property which I shall cease to have when I die and a property which I bought with my own money in Yorkshire.’