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‘Parasites’: Protesters rage at Whittington Hospital bosses over deal with Grenfell Tower-linked Ryhurst

PUBLISHED: 14:27 12 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 12 January 2018

A show of hands at Islington Town Hall supporting a vote that Rydon should not be involved with redevelopment plans for the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Polly Hancock

A show of hands at Islington Town Hall supporting a vote that Rydon should not be involved with redevelopment plans for the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Protesters packed Islington town hall last night to fight the Whittington Hospital’s contract with Ryhurst, owned by Grenfell Tower-linked Rydon.

Justice for Grenfell signs held up by campaigners at the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. Picture: Polly HancockJustice for Grenfell signs held up by campaigners at the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

The public meeting was called by Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition to challenge chief exec Siobhan Harrington and plan its campaign.

In reality, however, little was achieved apart from people getting very angry.

An exasperated Gary Heather, the Finsbury Park councillor who chaired the meeting, regularly had to call for order as furious people shouted over each other.

In October, it emerged Whittington bosses had contracted Ryhurst to oversee its “estates strategy”. This includes building staff accommodation, maternity ward improvements and a “health and wellbeing village” for some social care services – which would include some contracted out to the private sector.

Ryhurst owner Rydon is the firm accused of doing sub-standard work on Grenfell Tower, where 71 people were killed in the tragic blaze in June. It denies wrongdoing.

The panel of the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. From left to right: Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington, chair Cllr Gary Heather, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West and Shirley Franklin from Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition. Picture: Polly HancockThe panel of the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. From left to right: Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington, chair Cllr Gary Heather, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West and Shirley Franklin from Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition. Picture: Polly Hancock

The council chamber was filled with banners, including “Justice for Grenfell – we demand the truth” and “Don’t make a casualty of the Whittington.”

Ken Muller, of Islington’s National Union of Teachers branch, was one of the first speakers: “Us teachers are very concerned about the wellbeing of students [who may use the hospital].

“That’s not the case with Rydon. All they are interested in is profit. They were prepared to put their profits before the lives of the Grenfell tenants.

“It beggars belief they [Whittington bosses] are allowing these parasites into our hospital.”

Rydon, as it happens, has long been a sub-contractor for Islington Council, carrying out repair work on town hall-owned street properties.

Finsbury Park Cllr Gary Heather chaired the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. He regularly had to call for order. Picture: Polly HancockFinsbury Park Cllr Gary Heather chaired the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. He regularly had to call for order. Picture: Polly Hancock

One man shouted: “Rydon couldn’t run a bath. You talk to any council tenant in Islington and they are pulling their hair out.”

Screaming at Steve Hitchens, the former Liberal Democrat Islington Council leader who signed off the Ryhurst deal – and who is now on the Whittington board – the man added: “Everything you touched turned to shit. You wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. Ask any tenant in Islington.

“Rydon should never be trusted ever again after Grenfell and what they are doing to this borough. It scares the shit out of me. The fact Steve Hitchens is involved scares the shit out of me even more.”

A young man, named Arthur, then stood up and announced he was from Red Youth. This is a branch of the Communist Party.

Seemingly egged on by the rapturous applause given to Mr Hitchens’ attacker, he told Ms Horton: “Imagine them screaming through smog filled flats. You are trying to sell a hospital to people who murdered 70 people last year. You may as well give a contract to Jack the Ripper.”

A show of hands at Islington Town Hall supporting a vote that Rydon should be involved with redevelopment plans for the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Polly HancockA show of hands at Islington Town Hall supporting a vote that Rydon should be involved with redevelopment plans for the Whittington Hospital. Picture: Polly Hancock

As the meeting grew increasingly hysterical, Whittington worker Andrew Robins chose to speak out in favour of the hospital’s board: “Tarring the Whittington with the same brush is going too far.”

Bravely, in a room where a number of vendors were trying to flog copies of the Socialist Worker immediately after the meeting, he added: “It’s almost got a bit Daily Mail.”

Not liking what they heard, numerous people in the chamber tried to disrupt Mr Robins by talking over him. It prompted a furious Cllr Heather to stand and order silence.

Mr Robins was able to continue: “I want you to listen very carefully to what Siobhan said about the detail of the process. Ryhurst will not be used unless we choose to use them.

“It’s about trying to make more accommodation for staff. We have problems retaining staff because they can’t afford to live here.

Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington at the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. Picture: Polly HancockWhittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington at the Whittington Hospital meeting at Islington Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Can we go forward with scrutiny – but allow the board to their job?”

At the end of the meeting, a vote was called, asking people if they were for or against Ryhurst’s involvement with the Whittington. Only about 10 per cent put their hand up for – including a sheepish looking Ms Harrington. One man shouted at them: “Kerching!”

‘I know it’s unpopular, but...’

Siobhan Harrington has previously said the Rydon contract was signed off three days before the Grenfell tragedy, after a 12-month procurement process.

Sitting at the front of the chamber next to Cllr Heather, she bore most of the protesters’ frustrations last night.

In response to their questions, she said: “We gave a lot of consideration about how to implement our estates strategy. We went through legal procurement prior to Grenfell.

“We were really struck with the enormity of what happened, and the implications. We asked additional due diligence questions. We then looked at the urgent need to redevelop properties on the Whittington and we made the decision to move forward. I know it’s unpopular, but we have to maintain our service.”

She added: “I’ve spent 35 years in the NHS. I am NHS through and through. The way the NHS runs is absolutely central to how we operate. We want to be really open and transparent in the decision making process and what we do next. This is ongoing dialogue.”

Her comments were met with uproar. One man theatrically put his head in his hands. Cllr Heather shouted at everyone to calm down.

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