Dustcart fiasco hits Downing St

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IT WAS A scene that could best be described as Whitehall farce. It featured civil servants, a set of dustcarts, and refuse collectors employed by MRS, the private firm contracted to collect rubbish by Westminster City Council.

The incident, arising from a simple request to collect redundant filing cabinets - grey, Government issue - led to a row between an embarrassed Westminster City Council and MRS, which was settled last week with a profuse apology. A confidential document from the council to MRS, a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent on Sunday, details the cause of the row.

Friday 3 December: 6am: dustcart 445 began its journey to Downing Street, following a request for a large empty vehicle with lifting equipment. An agency driver was at the wheel.

6.45am: staff noticed request for vehicle with lifting equipment. Dustcart 445 was then substituted for dustcart 447, which was already half-full.

8.30am: vehicle arrived at Downing Street with its half- load.

8.35am: vehicle manoeuvred and 'reversed into Lord Wakeham's car'. Details were exchanged.

8.40am: driver began loading metal cabinets. 'The vehicle's compacting mechanism broke down.'

8.50am: vehicle left Downing Street to be repaired.

9.30am: the same vehicle returned. It had been to the local depot, where the leading hand had believed the mechanism to be operational.

9.40am: work began again to clear refuse. The compacting mechanism broke down again. Dustcart left Downing Street.

10.10am: Cabinet Office complained by phone. MRS assured swift action.

11.10am: an empty dustcart, 395, but the same crew, arrived at Downing Street. 'While manoeuvring, the vehicle reversed into a Tudor wall, chipping bricks from the Grade I listed brickwork. The damage is to be assessed by English Heritage.'

11.30am: refuse cleared.

No one at MRS was available for comment, but a Cabinet Office spokeswoman confirmed that it was satisfied with the firm's 'profuse apology', and English Heritage is considering designs for 'precautionary bollards'.

Westminster City Council, which employs MRS, said it was satisfied with the company and would continue to use it.

The regard in which MRS has been held by the Conservative Party led to it featuring in a party political broadcast.