William Hague’s officials have spent £10,000 on restuffing an antique snake, as Tim Ross reports for London’s Telegraph.
The 20ft-long anaconda, called Albert, is believed to have been given to a former colonial secretary in the 19th century by a bishop from what is now Guyana, in South America.
Albert was found to have fallen into a poor state of repair, during routine maintenance in the Foreign Office’s ornate Whitehall headquarters.
Civil servants who discovered his condition judged it “essential” to restore the “unique historic heirloom”, which was suspended from the ceiling of a library, for “posterity”.
At a cost of £10,000 to the taxpayer, the 120-year-old reptile underwent five weeks of conservation work by experts at the Natural History Museum during May and June.
“The level of detailed, delicate work in the restoration involved an intensive amount of care and attention from highly trained staff,” a spokesman explained.
The Foreign Office insisted that the painstaking efforts were necessary because the snake had been an official gift to Britain.
“As a gift to the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], Albert is therefore regarded as an FCO asset.
“As such the FCO is obliged to maintain its assets, and the work on Albert was essential maintenance,” the department said in response to a freedom of information request.
A spokesman also defended the decision to spend the money on a stuffed snake at a time of spending cuts across government.
“He deserved essential maintenance to an appropriate standard after decades of neglect. It is quite a bit of money but he is a very big snake.”
The spokesman added: “We will not be constricted, nor will we scale back, in our dedication to preserve this historic national treasure.”
The snake’s precise provenance is unknown, although he appears in a photograph from 1892, indicating that he has been in situ for at least 120 years. “It is believed ‘Albert’ was first restuffed in the 1960s or 1970s, but there are no records of how much it cost on that occasion,” the Foreign Office said.
“Certainly no significant maintenance has been carried out on him in the last 40-50 years.”
Mr Hague disclosed that Albert had undergone renovation at the Conservative Party conference last month. “He is looking very optimistic about the future of our foreign policy,” the minister joked.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance criticised the decision to spend £10,000 on restoring Albert.
John O’Connell, research director of the alliance, said: “When taxpayers are being squeezed for every penny, it’s bonkers that they’ve had to fork out to stuff William Hague’s snake.
“This costly anaconda could have been donated elsewhere. The Foreign Office is a government department, not the Natural History Museum.”
For the original report go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9145272/William-Hague-a-mysterious-bishop-and-the-10000-snake.html