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Friday, 25 March 2011

Reflections on the brutal end to the Siege of Ardenlea Street

Margaret and Jack Jaconelli’s 35-year life in their family home ended yesterday under a brutal assault by over 80 police officers, council workers and 20 riot vans, initiated by Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council.

The Jaconellis are now homeless, but this indomitable, archetypal Glasgow working class family won’t be for long - they will pick themselves up and start again, finding a new home, and making a new life. But one thing is certain - they won’t give up their fight for justice, aided by their lawyer, Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre.


The coverage of this story by the Scottish media can be characterised in general as belated, inaccurate and in some case, deliberately and consciously biased in favour of Glasgow City Council. Journalists, if some can even be dignified by this honourable appellation, were lazy and incurious, accepting at face value the many distorted misrepresentations fed to them by GCC’s publicity mill and rumour machine, cooperating supinely in the Council’s attempts to present the Jaconelli’s as greedy and unreasonable.

These people would not have recognised a significant human interest story and the dubious political dealings that surrounded it if it reared up and bit them on the arse. That is the most charitable explanation of their behaviour: there are others.

I suppose if your journalistic instincts begin and end with scanning a press release by the powerful and well-resourced, or having cosy lunches and briefings from their minions, instead of taking a trip to the heart of the problem - 10 Ardenlea Street - and talking to those directly involved, then this is the kind of lazy copy you will deliver to equally uninterested editors.

But many of these news outlets had another agenda - they were Labour-supporting organs, unionist to their core, and an election was coming up. A story that showed a relentless and unfeeling persecution of ordinary Glaswegians did not sit well with the image of the People’s Party, Labour - the party of John MacLean and Keir Hardie, of  Red Clydeside, champions of the under-privileged. Such a story might bring home to Scottish voters that Scottish Labour, the puppet regime of Blair/Mandelson'/Brown’s New Labour, in the run-up to May 5th, had been hiding for decades behind the corpse of the old Labour Party, trotting it out, decaying and rotten, but covered in bright paint , to fool the people of Scotland.

This could not be allowed to happen. Bluntly, they hoped to bury the story, and when the Jaconellis inconveniently and bravely put their heads above the parapet to shout that the Labour emperor had no clothes, to shoot them down with a volley of lies, distortions and unfounded accusations.

But not even such a feeble excuse for a democratic press could not ignore a story when it got legs, and they were reluctantly forced into correcting some of their inaccuracies by events.


It must be said that there have been honourable exceptions to this behaviour, notably in the form of the Scottish Sun’s coverage of the Jaconellis, significantly attributable to a freelance journalist, Paul Drury, who did what real journalists do - went to the source, went to the locations, got to know the people involved, asked real questions, checked and cross checked facts.

Of course the Sun sensationalised the coverage a bit - after all, they are the tabloid’s tabloid and that’s what they do. Unfortunately, in their attempts to point up the egregious disparity of treatment between that meted out to the Jaconellis and the enrichment of the developers who swarmed over the Commonwealth Games site, they may have at times unintentionally harmed the Jaconelli’s interest with their ‘£3.5 million pound Gran’ headlines, unwittingly feeding the Glasgow City Council lie that Margaret Jaconelli was pursuing a huge and unrealistic settlement figure, something that was never true.

But on overwhelming balance, the Jaconellis and their supporters are grateful to Paul Drury and the Sun for acting as virtually the only real counterbalance to the hostile and biased coverage of the rest.


The Scottish television coverage, although not visibly biased, was belated and superficial, and predictably only interested when the saga entered its last, more sensational stages. Newsnight Scotland, often a byword for leaden, dull coverage of Scottish affairs, with occasional flashes of brilliance - usually when Isabel Fraser is in the interviewer’s seat - never touched the story.

Even in the last few days, they have given a much higher profile to the Glasgow University student protest evictions than to the much more significant brutal and over-the-top storming of the Jaconelli’s home. But then that’s the West End, much closer to the hearts of Scottish media types than the forgotten ghettos and people of Glasgow East.

Television, of course, completely missed Margaret Jaconelli’s confrontation, first with Gordon Matheson, Leader of the GCC Labour Group, then with Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party outside the Scottish Labour Party Conference on Saturday last. Only the Sunday Post, as far as I know, ran this story and published the photograph of Margaret and Ed Miliband.


Labour in Scotland maintained a deathly silence on this, as well they might have, since Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council under Gordon Matheson are the villains of this sordid piece. The Tories were predictably absent - after all, they are the party of money, privilege and exploitation of working people: Why would they speak? The pathetic Scottish LibDems don’t have their troubles to seek, and stayed well below the parapet.

But the strange behaviour of the Scottish National Party over the Jaconelli case deserves some examination. After a couple of statements  of concern by the First Minister some considerable time ago, a brief visit by Alison Thewliss, GCC SNP councillor for the Jaconelli’s, and one or two minor expressions of concern by others, a great blanket of silence fell over the issue.

Using such limited resources as I have, I repeatedly and persistently tried to secure some level of involvement from the Party at all levels. The responses to this have, in the main, been to ignore me completely (the SNP have been terrified of bloggers since the University of Cheese scandal, although they recognise their value) or to offer feeble excuses such as “Well, Margaret hasn’t come to my constituency surgery”, prompting the irascible response from me that this vulnerable, overstretched woman, struggling with her problem, with the terminal illness of her brother in England, the abandonment of her virtually at the door of the courtroom by her previous lawyer, and facing the full weight of QCs, District Valuers, et al, needed her elected representatives to visit her, not the other way around.

The Jaconellis are - or at least were - SNP supporters. Much bloody good it did them, at least up to the eleventh hour, when two offers offers to mediate in the dispute came from the Scottish Government,  a fact little reported anywhere in the media. (GCC declined both offers, as they had refused Margaret’s formal request for mediation and ADR.)

I repeatedly told the SNP that this story would get bigger, and eventually break into the media when the inevitable confrontation occurred. I had secured tentative interest from Jon Snow and Channel Four News, but then world events of staggering implications took over their whole agenda. (I have also kept Ken Loach informed through his film production company.)

The SNP should have been publicly and vocally on the right side of this dispute since the start, because it is a uniquely Scottish dispute in the Labour heartland that they need so badly to capture. Doing the right things was clearly the right thing to do here - but they didn’t, displaying all too often the rather uncertain grasp of new media - an occasionally old media - and its significance that too often characterises the Party’s approach.

They are going to have to do a damned sight better if they are to remain in power after May 5th. They still have my full and committed support, but, I regret, my faith is a liitle dented after the Jaconelli failure.


  1. I would have been annoyed if the party had supported themm trying to get 360,000 out of the council.

    In what world would a tenement flat in dalmarnock be worth 360 grand? Did anybody else in dalmarnock get that kind of money? I very much doubt it.

    While I think the council ws pretty miserly to begin with they went up to 90 grand and that is as good a price as anybody could reasonably have expected.

    Hopefully they will still get that money and they can now start again somewhere else.

  2. Have you read or understood anything I've said in many blogs about the Jaconellis, the press coverage and the misrepresentations of their position?

  3. Peter's support for this family and his brave stance against the injustice meted out to Mrs Jaconelli has been inspirational and principled. My comments are made personally; and I say this as a Labour Party activist, a community law centre lawyer in Govan, but most of all as someone who cares about people and admires those who are prepared to stand up for what is right. I for one appreciate and value all of your hard work and efforts. Scotland would be the stronger and so much the better if more people were prepared to put principle before self.

  4. Sir, you are to be commended for your informative and interesting blog reports on the Jaconelli plight. I have no doubt whatsoever that your dogged persistance to the grim facts of this debacle has influenced even stubborn and biased churnalists. Eventually, the facts were coming to the fore and this spooked Labour into brutal action.

    It's a shame that the cameras didn't catch Matheson fleeing Margaret at the SECC, however, maybe Ken Loach can create it for the big screen? Coming to a cinema near you in 2014! Now that would be amusing!

    Great work, well done and thank you.

    A concerned Glaswegian.

  5. Thanks, Mike

    The Jaconelli's are fortunate to have you as their champion- They need some good fortune now - let's hope Strasbourg revives the spirit of Justice that Glasgow has lost.

  6. Thanks, jokey. I hope that somewhere down the line, the Jaconellis can find equity and fairness.

  7. There has been a lot of nonsense written about this issue.

    Mrs Jaconelli is a chancer, it's a simple as that, & I am amazed that she is being taken seriously by people who should know better.

    What do you have to say to all the other families who have been part of a clearance process. How do you justify what she has done to them, they would be, rightly, raging if the council gave in to this blackmail.

  8. Observer: I have responded to your contemptible post on Bella Caledonia - I will therefore simply reproduce my reply here. With friends like you, Glasgow Labour City Council doesn't need enemies.


    You appear to have read little and understood even less of what has been written about this dispute, but to have swallowed whole Glasgow City Council’s media spin and distortion. Assuming you are not a shill for Glasgow Labour’s PR machine, perhaps this will help you to revisit the facts -
    Margaret Jaconelli and her family fully support Glasgow East regeneration and the Commonwealth Games and have always been willing to move, as have the other families and businesses caught up in this. The Jaconellis are owner occupiers, not tenants – they owned their property free and clear, and it represents their only capital from 35 years of hard work and enterprise.
    Far from being greedy, they only ever wanted to receive a figure in total compensation for the loss of their home that would permit them to buy an equivalent property in another neighbourhood, and have their legal and other costs of moving met.
    No offer they were made came anywhere close to meeting this simple, equitable aspiration, either in 2006, when they were offered £30k or the belated and as yet unformalised offer of £90,000, made verbally over the phone at the last moment. In fact, the only formal offer made, according to Mike Dailly, the Jaconelli’s lawyer, was £71,000
    An offer of £90,000 might well have seemed equitable to the Jaconellis in 2006. In 2011, after six years of legal costs, and grossly excessive heating bills caused by the calculated actions of GCC in leaving the flat above them open to the elements were met, the Jaconellis would not have been able to buy any comparable property with the balance, and their economic base, built up painfully over 35 years would have been destroyed. They are not alone in this plight – other lives and businesses have also been destroyed, but the Jaconellis decided to fight.
    The only ‘rehousing’ offered to them was temporary rented accommodation at approx. £400 per month. Even the permanent offer of a rented council house (none was made) would have been unacceptable to owner occupiers, and no owner/occupier that I know would deem such a thing acceptable. Had GCC decided to gift outright to the Jaconellis one of the new properties being built on the site, they would have accepted.
    The issue of the gross disparity between the astronomical settlements made with property developers by GCC for doing nothing more than buying derelict vacant land, holding it and re-selling, far from being ‘conflated’ with the Ardenlea question, is central to it – and it won’t go away. believe me. More than one investigative high-level journalist team is more than interested in just what went on in Dalmarnock.
    As for you, observer – I don’t know what your background, occupation, housing or income bracket is, but your superficial, inaccurate and utterly unfeeling comment reflects no credit on you.
    You are right about one thing, however. Had this happened to a family living in Ruchill, or Possil, in Govan or Yoker, then this wouldn’t be headline news – the families concerned would have been buried quietly with their hopes and dreams, with nothing being reported by the media.

  9. I cannot comment on the various sums of money offered with numerous strings and penalties attached but it is the whole question of the scourge of clearance that evokes the poison of our Scottish past associated with 'compulsory purchase' - note the word purchase rather than clearance.
    Will Moridura keep us informed of the eventual purchase price of this specific land from the GCC and the subsequent profits made from initial development and sale -minus, of course, the cost of brown envelopes. I gather you can pick up a modest mechanical excavator for £50,000 which puts £30,000 into perspective?

  10. Hi, Clarinda - welcome back!

    The costs incurred by GCC to date in hounding the Jaconellis must have exceeded by far the cost of bridging the gap between the parties.