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Sad Demise of the Skateboard Graveyard

11/12/2014 05:21 GMT | Updated 09/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The murder of 24-year-old skateboarder Timothy Baxter in 1999 is one of those sad, dark little pieces of London's history that makes you despair for the city.

Mugged and thrown off the Golden Jubilee Bridge to drown by a bunch of kids whose own stories were themselves sad, violent little microcosms of a society in freefall, his death - like the lives of the perpetrators - is easily forgotten.

But the skaters who haunt the South Bank remember. And hence the 'skateboard graveyard'. At some point over recent years it has become tradition among the kids who hang out there to chuck worn-out and broken boards and destroyed trainers onto the bridge support closest to the Festival Hall - creating an incredibly poignant memorial to Baxter, one that has become a tourist attraction of sorts in its own right (for punks and skaters at least).

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Image courtesy of Catrin Austin

Which makes Westminster City Council's clean-up crew abseiling down to remove the lot both sad and a bit of a massive cock-up. In the council's defence, a call to its press office resulted in a gearshift straight to damage limitation mode, complete with frantic queries to determine who, why and when the memorial had been destroyed - and a press officer who sounded genuinely teary after she's read the Observer's 2000 feature on the murder.

A response came back from Leith Penny, Westminster's executive director for city management and communities, which said: "Unfortunately, our contractors were not aware the damaged skateboards left on one of the bridge's supports were a tribute to Timothy Baxter after his tragic death in 1999. As a result they were removed as part of an annual clean-up operation across the entire area.

"However, we now hope to work with the skateboarding community in the local area to try and find a more permanent way of honouring his memory and we have approached Lambeth Council to discuss how this might be achieved."

It's a pretty good save - and hell, there's no point bashing the council for what was clearly an honest mistake; there's no reason on earth anyone there would make the connection between the broken boards and a 15-year-old murder.

The thing is though, it was the "organic" (as one stoned skater described it) nature of the memorial to Baxter that gave it its beauty, and a plaque just ain't going to cut the mustard.

"We also welcome engagement and ideas from the skateboarding community," the statement from Penny continued. I popped down to the skatepark under the RFH to gauge the skateboarding 'community's' views on engaging with the council (luckily, despite my advancing age I still have enough residual cool that they assumed I was a dealer rather than a plainclothes cop).

Good luck, is all I can say. The thick clouds of skunk smoke in the air may have been a factor, although I don't think skateboarders are really brainstorming consultation types, as a community or otherwise. Frankly, if I couldn't get any sense out of them, I doubt a bunch of suits from the council are going to have much luck.

Needless to say, I don't think there's going to be a bronze of Baxter cast any time soon. However, two lonely broken boards have already reappeared on the bridge. With a bit of luck, next time the annual clean-up comes around, someone will have had a quiet word with the rubbish crew boss.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.