Ben Whitaker with his wife Janet at Hampstead Town Hall
Published: 24 November, 2016
IT was thanks to the dying wish of Ben Whitaker, the human rights lawyer who became Hampstead’s first Labour MP when he defeated Tory cabinet minister Henry Brooke in a shock 1966 election, that an evening was held in a West End gallery to raise funds for victims of torture.
In his will, Ben Whitaker, who died in 2014, aged 89, asked that the paintings and drawings that became his loving pastime when he retired from his Swiss Cottage home, along with his photography, be auctioned – and it finally happened at the Gimpel Fils gallery.
Examples of Ben Whitaker's work
Guests were given numbered cards to take part in a “silent auction” by putting in a bid, the proceeds going to Highbury-based charity Freedom from Torture.
Unable to open the auction because of illness, actress and refugee campaigner Juliet Stevenson sent a message saying whenever she met Ben Whitaker he “left a strong and lasting impression... I bought a couple of his pictures, and Ben has been in my study ever since. He was a good friend and supporter of the charity.”
Susan Munroe, chief executive of Freedom From Torture, said she was bothered by having to turn away desperate people. “I hate to admit it... but we have to turn away two survivors of torture for every three who are referred to us,” she said.
John Mills, who runs JML shopping channel, and a former Camden Council finance chief, bought a photograph and told me he knew Ben Whitaker very well and canvassed for him in the 1966 election.
Also present, of course, was Ben Whitaker’s widow, Janet, and Lord Harries, the retired Bishop of Oxford, who began his career as curate at Hampstead Parish Church.
The auction raised £5,655, one painting fetching more than £1,000.
• Credit or debit card donations can be made to Freedom from Torture by ringing 020 7697 7788 or by sending them, via Freepost Plus, to RTEB-GZRS-JXLA, Fundraising Department, Freedom from Torture, 111 Isledon Road, N7 7JW.