Retired judge handed £35,000 for chairing riots panel

Establishment figure William Barnett: paid £35,000 for chairing panel whose report exonerated all blame from Croydon Council for last August's riots

It seems that at least one of the mates of Croydon Council’s leadership has benefited financially as a consequence of last August’s riots.

Official invoices just published show that our council paid a staggering £35,000 to William Barnett for a few months’ work in chairing Croydon’s “independent” riots review panel.

Click here to see the latest batch of Croydon Council’s invoice payments. Barnett’s payment of £35,158, attributed to the Chief Executive’s office, is listed towards the bottom of page 68.

“£35,000 at a time when many families are struggling to pay their weekly bills seems excessive and will only raise further questions about the role of Croydon’s Tory council, as many of those who suffered in the riots are still waiting for their compensation,” Tony Newman, leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, told Inside Croydon.

“This is the same Tory council which directs what riot relief money Croydon has received towards the Town Centre and leaves the London Road and other areas devastated by riots and arson empty-handed,” Newman said.

Retired lawyer Barnett, who served as a judge at Croydon Crown Court for a decade, lives in the borough and is very well-connected within local Establishment circles: he sits on the board of the Whitgift Foundation as is a governor of their independent schools, having strong links with Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Conservative group on Croydon Council, and Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell.

Croydon Council appointed Barnett to chair the review panel at the end of last September. The panel did not begin its work until October and after interviewing 64 people and receiving 200 written submissions – but without cross-examining any of the police officers who were on duty on the night of August 8 – Barnett delivered his report by the end of February.

The 48-page report has been described as “a thin document, with a desultory timeline of events on the night”.

The superficiality of the Barnett Report failed to satisfy observers, who had wanted a more robust interrogation of key figures who were supposed to be in control of civil structures in the borough over that weekend of simmering tension and violence that erupted in Croydon on August 8.

The revelation that Barnett has been paid so handsomely by Croydon Council will reinforce suspicions that he was appointed by the controlling Conservative group with a brief to deliver little more than a whitewash.

Barnett’s panel included two Croydon councillors, Sean Fitzsimons, the Labour representative from Addiscombe ward, and Jan Buttinger, Steve O’Connell’s Tory colleague in Kenley, plus two lay members both with strong links to the Conservatives.

The appointments were greeted with a hefty dollop of scepticism at the time. “With a panel like that, we do not expect to read any serious criticisms of the council, or even the police, in its final report,” Inside Croydon stated presciently at the time. The public and local community groups were given just two weeks to deliver their submissions to the Barnett panel.

And when the report was published, Andrew Pelling, in his Croydon Commentary, said of the Barnett Report: “The voice of the victims entirely fails to come through in the report. None of the witnesses’ evidence is quoted. Nor is there a summary of those who were willing to be reported as providing evidence.”

The Barnett Report singularly failed to explain the whereabouts on 8/8 of Jon Rouse, Croydon’s £248,000 per year chief executive.

Despite two nights of riots elsewhere in London over the preceding weekend and 24 hours of local police intelligence suggesting that the volatile situation in Croydon was close to boiling over, sources at Taberner House suggest that Rouse chose to leave his office at 4.30pm on 8/8. Rouse is understood to have attended a meeting at Mayday Hospital at 5.30pm, before apparently making his way home. It was barely an hour before serious civil disturbances began at West Croydon.

“At least when the Titanic went down, the captain was on the bridge,” our source said.

We asked Croydon Council’s press office to justify the £35,000 payment to Barnett for a piece of community-minded work. They have failed to respond.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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