Angry protests as Alan Bennett loses battle to save libraries

Campaigners say ruling on Brent council's planned closures is a loss to all Britain's children
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The Independent Culture

Angry crowds scared off council workmen trying to bolt the doors to a library in north London last night following a judicial precedent that could see hundreds of thousands of people across the UK stripped of their access to free books.

Outside Kensal Rise library in Brent – whose closure playwright Alan Bennett described as tantamount to "child abuse" – a crowd of more than 70 had gathered to chant "Save our libraries".

Among the demonstrators was leader of the anti-closure campaign Margaret Bailey, who said: "For some reason it's always libraries that are the first to go.

"They're not cutting their salaries, or the salary of the chief executive who earns more than the Prime Minister. "

The borough's five other libraries to feel the weight of the council's axe did not boast such fearsome resistance, and were closed without users even being given the chance to return the books and DVDs they had borrowed.

Brent's Liberal Democrat leader Peter Lorber claimed library staff were briefed earlier in the day, when the campaigners' High Court challenge against the closures – which will see the borough's six remaining libraries shared between 260,000 people – was dismissed.

Contractors set about "boarding up" the buildings and securing the doors in what he described as a "draconian" measure by the Labour council.

In court yesterday, the future of six of Brent's 12 libraries and local services nationally were dealt a devastating blow. SOS Libraries, which had the support of figures including Nick Cave and the Pet Shop Boys, asked Mr Justice Ouseley to declare the council's decision to close the libraries to save cash as "fundamentally flawed and unlawful".

But he dismissed the application for a judicial review, saying there was no evidence to back up the allegations made against the council.

Ann John OBE, the council leader, said the council was pleased to be "completely vindicated".

The decision prompted protesters and union representatives to say Britons could face a "postcode lottery"in their attempt to access books, and that the Government is failing in its statutory duty to provide an adequate library service.

Many councils who have been handed less government funding under the Coalition's spending cuts are opting to close libraries to save resources. The closure of libraries in Kensal Rise, Barham, Preston, Neasden, Cricklewood and Tokyngton comes as part of Brent council's £42m cuts voted through in February this year.

Labour culture spokesman Dan Jarvis said: "The closure of these libraries lies firmly at the Government's door." Campaigners in other communities facing cuts had hoped that the case could provide a useful legal precedent for the case to save libraries elsewhere.

Blackstone Chambers' Dinah Rose QC has been instructed to launch an appeal on behalf of the the Brent campaigners.