Family in dispute with housing association over authors’ letters

GERALD TARLING: History wiped out

Gerald Tarling, aged 88, was a resident of a Town & Country Housing property in Five Oak Green for nearly 40 years until a flood in February 2020 caused his house to be uninhabitable.

While he took up his temporary residence in Southborough, his children returned to the property to assess the damage and discovered that his belongings, including letters from the writers Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, had been removed from his home.

The family have copies of the letters from George Bernard Shaw, which were sent from the writer to one of Charles Dickens’ daughters thanking her for her work at a publishing house. There were no copies of the letters from Oscar Wilde.

Son Marcus told the Times: “My father was sitting in his living room one day and heard a strange noise, and suddenly there was a swoosh of foul water and he was up to his knees in it.

“The housing association then moved him to Southborough and everything salvageable from the ground floor was to be moved upstairs.

“He was given £8,000 in compensation for his carpets, fridges, washing machine and white goods which were damaged by the water.”

He said they did not realise that all of the goods had been removed until a later return visit.

“His shed, which contained tools and antiques, had been opened and everything had been taken, along with his belongings from the ground floor.”

The association told the family it was nothing to do with them.

“They eventually admitted they had taken and disposed of his belongings,” said Mr Tarling.

“There has been an absolute denial of what happened. Under the Interference of Goods Act, the association has a duty of care to my father and his belongings.

“He has been offered £12,000 by way of compensation, but that is nowhere near the sentimental value of his belongings.

“My father’s mother was a publisher and the house contained letters from Oscar Wilde plus letters to our grandmother from George Bernard Shaw.

“Along with the letters, there was history on our family, her jewellery and hundreds of books, some of which have been signed, but because they are considered ‘second hand’ the association did not see them of much value.

“All of this history has just been wiped out.”

Mr Tarling added that it has all impacted his father’s mental health: “He can’t now remember what the inside of the house looked like.

“This has erased all his memories of that house, along with all the physical attachments to his mother. He has, at 88 years of age, been asked to do an inventory of all his possessions.

“The idea that he should have to prove what was there is totally wrong.”

A spokesperson for Town and Country said: “Mr Tarling has been one of our residents since 1982, when he moved into his house in Tonbridge. “The flooding from a nearby reservoir and subsequent sewage problems in February last year meant he could no longer stay there and we have now resettled him into older persons’ accommodation on another Town & Country Housing scheme.

“Although Mr Tarling’s family were able to clear many of the possessions from the ground floor, there were other items upstairs.

“We then tried to fix a time for the family to visit the property to collect the remaining items. We phoned his daughter three times and emailed her to say we needed to urgently clear the house, but with no response.

“As the house had been badly damaged by water and sewage, we had to start the clean-up process as swiftly as possible. It was important to repair the property and make it available for other families in need.

“Mr Tarling’s family have been liaising with our insurance company on the matter of compensation.”

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