Belinda Kingsbury talks to Rachel Cooper
The centre of a hurricane can feel surprisingly calm,
and the Aberystwyth hotel room I’m sharing with
fire-fighter Rachel Cooper is wonderfully serene.
Looking leggy and relaxed in tight black jeans, she is
a million miles from the angry, hollow-cheeked
firebrand 20 million of us have watched on
If you haven’t seen the news recently, Rachel put
out one fire whilst lighting a few of her own.
I ask if she had any inkling the story would ignite
as it did, leaving her (A Scottish fire-fighter in London)
to hide out on a windy seafront in West Wales.
“No idea at all” she sighs. “It was all so sudden”
“Sudden” is no exaggeration.
On Tuesday Rachel had learned the flat she was attending in posh OneHydePark was registered abroad to avoid paying council tax.
Outraged that the owners had gone to such lengths to avoid paying for her services, she promptly charged them £50,000 to put out the fire.
The camera-phone video of this discussion went viral and spread like wildfire throughout Wednesday.
By Thursday binmen in Westminster were asking to see Council Tax bills.
On Friday police refused to attend a hastily-arranged demo outside Google’s new offices. Terrified staff burst out of fire exits and the owners learned that glass isn’t always the best building material.
Over the weekend, damage to several West End stores led to an avalanche of companies quickly changing their tax structures.
I ask if she feels guilty about all the destruction that was caused.
“I did feel bad at first” she admits, “but then I didn’t make these companies avoid paying their taxes.”
Does she see a moral angle here?
“Definitely. Rich people benefit from there being a government – they get literate workers, roads, protection when banks fail – yet they seem to think they’re exempt from paying for it”
When I ask if she thinks firefighters should refuse to put out fires at the homes of the unemployed since they don’t contribute either, her cool resolve warmed slightly.
“Of course not. They haven’t chosen to be unemployed.”
I say that some people do choose to be unemployed, but she won’t have it.
“You do get a few people claiming Disability Allowance when they’re able to referee a football match, but they’re vilified in the media. Much more so than the millionaires who use London as a tax haven and cost the country much more.”
I point out that the rich contribute much to charities & in other ways. “People like Mrs Parr go to tremendous lengths to avoid paying £900 a year they could easily afford. The service charge in those flats is over £200,000 a year. What they do is immoral”
On the mention of Mrs Parr, I ask if she paid up. It turns out she did, and the money was banked with a charity for injured firefighters.
Finally, I ask if she felt guilty about Mrs Parr’s speedy media descent from Victim to “Rich Bitch They Should Have Left To Burn” (as The Mirror called her)
Rachel laughs. I look at the Fire Brigades Union media handler, who is stifling a giggle too.
“No comment” she says, and I am graciously shown the door.
As I step out to the seafront, a sunset bathing the town a fiery red, I wonder if a little wisp of innocence has been lost this week, another layer of deference peeled away.
Listen to Burn the Rich by Tony Jones http://earcandy.scriptographyproductions.co.uk/burn-the-rich