Matthew Steeples asks: “Is the story of the ‘middle class Heathrow homeless couple’ all that it seems?”
Yesterday, after the Mail Online featured a middle-class couple “forced” to sleep at Heathrow Airport, over 470 people donated to a fund to help find them a home. Though this plainly shocked many, a simple Google search revealed there to be more to this story and that of other Heathrow rough sleepers than initially meets the eye.
Tugging on the heartstrings of the public, twice divorced Alan Lane, 71, and his partner of twenty-eight years, Katrina Smith, 62, were described by the Mail as “trapped in [a] half-life… because of an anomaly”. The paper added that the couple had made “a series of bad decisions” and been victims of “some even worse luck”; they “live hand-to-mouth, eking out their days in limbo” and “live in hope of a drastic change of circumstances”. The article concluded with a link to a gofundme fundraising page titled “Katrina and Alan’s home fund”. The page, it was revealed, was set up by a lady who claims to have “never heard of the couple” named Natalie Longford. She sought to raise a sum of £2,000 to “turn their life around”.
As of 9.15am today, £9,065 had been raised for the couple by generous donors but strikingly of the 164 comments left by the public, the majority ask why this middle-class pair have attracted so much support. The fact that Lane and Smith admit to earning £1,400 per month – which equates to the average income of a taxi driver or undertaker – yet claim to be unable to find a home grates for some, but that they spend £300 per month storing items that they themselves point out have “little monetary value” is ridiculous. The duo also admit to turning down offers of financial support and accommodation for fear of being separated.
Lane and Smith “lost” their £500,000 home in 2006 and in doing so released £190,000 in equity. In the years since, they have managed to burn through their savings and claim to have struggled to find work. Bizarrely, however, Mr Lane remains listed on the website of First Principles Communications and is described there as the firm’s “International Communications Counsel”. His biography attests to his having worked for the BBC, Sky News and “top PR agencies” Hill & Knowlton, Weber Shandwick, Grayling, Fleishman-Hillard, Burson-Marsteller, Grey and Ruder Finn. He is plainly a media savvy individual and we do question how his story attracted such great attention at a time when people are being killed on the streets of Donetsk.
Alan Lane and Katrina Smith have been able to afford to stay in a B&B near Heathrow for several nights per week since becoming homeless. Several comments on the gofundme fundraising page point out that a couple sharing Lane and Smith’s Christian names is mentioned several times as being the “hosts” on TripAdvisor reviews of a guesthouse named Heathrow Cottages in Middlesex. We have been unable to confirm whether this is in fact them but when The Steeple Times called the guesthouse the phone was put down by a woman named Katrina Smith.
Heathrow’s “hidden homeless” problem was highlighted earlier this month when data published by the Greater London Authority revealed that they had recorded 103 rough sleepers at the airport between October and December 2014, compared with just 54 a year previously. Echoing the plight of the stateless eastern European tourist in Stephen Spielberg’s film The Terminal, this plainly is a growing issue. The case of Alan Lane and Katrina Smith, however, may prove to be quite something else.
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