Tragic final chapter for street bookseller about to be reunited with daughter
John Henderson was found dead on the Black Path on Sunday
23 May, 2019 — By Tom Foot
A POPULAR street bookseller was found dead just days after he had arranged to meet his adult daughter for the first time since she was a child. John Henderson, 47, was discovered in Black Path – a lane running alongside the West Hampstead Thameslink station – in the early hours of Sunday morning.
As a shrine grew on the railway bridge where he ran an open-air book stall, his 18-year-old daughter revealed how she had made contact with him. Rosie Henderson-McGirr said: “I went into care when I was younger and we didn’t have much contact. Growing up I had a lot of anger, a lot of mixed feelings. I never saw him as someone who was trying to fix his life. I was told that he couldn’t help himself so he couldn’t help me.”
She added: “He had had a difficult upbringing himself. It may have caused him to drink and be a drug user. But I never got the chance to speak to him about that. I don’t know why he called himself Spider.”
People in the area said the “Spider” nickname related to tattoos on Mr Henderson’s left cheek and right hand. The father-of-three sold books – donated by passers-by and nearby residents – from a plot in West End Lane for 20 years. His favourite companion had been a three-legged Staffie dog, Sugar, who was recognised with a plaque outside the station last August.
Ms Henderson-McGirr said: “It wasn’t until recently that I was in contact with my mum and she put his ear to the phone. We spoke, just a short conversation. We said we loved each other and he wanted to see me, and we decided to meet. That was such a big decision for me to make, it was just Wednesday last week.”
Born in Clydebank, near Glasgow, Scotland, Mr Henderson moved to London 30 years ago and was known to have a drink and drug problem. Although Mr Henderson spent most of his time in West End Lane, near West Hampstead station, he had for a long time had a flat in Kilburn.
Ms Henderson-McGirr said: “I couldn’t understand it, as a child. There was a frustration that, if you’ve got a flat, why couldn’t you find a job, an actual job and live an ordinary life. A lot of other people who know him are questioning about that. But he never wanted to change it. He was happy doing that.”
She grew up with a brother, Steven, in care, although recently discovered she had another half-brother, John. He had got in touch out of the blue on Facebook, saying: “Hi – I’m your brother.”
Ms Henderson-McGirr and Steven are official ambassadors for the charity Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness, which works with people affected by alcohol intake during pregnancy. FASD covers a range of disabilities on the brain and body of people exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. It can affect motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, emotional regulation, and social skills.
Ms Henderson-McGirr said: “People think it’s OK to have a couple of drinks during pregnancy. The charity gives information and support to children who are diagnosed with it.”
People mourning Mr Henderson have been asked to donate to a charity as a way of remembering him. Natasha Back, who set up a fundraising web page, said: “I’ve known John for 15 years, he was one of the first people to make me feel welcome in West Hampstead when I first moved here. John was a loveable rogue with a razor-sharp wit and a huge heart. He’ll be greatly missed.”
Sarah Smith, 30, said she made a lasting bond with Mr Henderson, as she had taken portrait photos of him – with his permission – for a GCSE project.
She said: “When he saw me he always asked how my mum and dad were, asked me how school was going. I used to talk to him about all the things that were going on in my life. We would give each other a hug. I just saw him on Saturday night – I was driving past and I wound the window down and told him that I was turning 30 on Wednesday and I’m getting married. He went ‘no you’re f**king not!’”
Nick Richards, who works next to Mr Henderson’s plot said: “He was ebullient. He made me realise that you should never judge people. We are what we are because of luck and misfortune.”
Fortune Green ward councillor Lorna Russell, who organised last night’s wake for Mr Henderson at the Alliance pub, said: “John was a really lovely man, a real character in West Hampstead, and I know the community will miss his kind soul and cheery attitude.
A Met Police statement said: “Police were called by the London Ambulance Service at 07.05am on Sunday, 19 May, to reports of an unresponsive male in Black Path, off West End Lane, NW6. Officers and the LAS attended. “The man, believed to be aged in his 40s, was pronounced dead at the scene. A post-mortem examination will be held in due course. The death is not being treated as suspicious.”
l To donate to Ms Back’s collection, visit https://www.gofundme. com/for-rosie-steven-john-amp-fasd-awareness-se