Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


21. Memorandum submitted by Neighbours from Hell in Britain

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

  "Neighbours From Hell in Britain" (NFHiB) was originally set up as a MSN (Microsoft) Forum back in early 2002, due to the site creator's personal experiences with repeatedly anti-social, noisy, inconsiderate and rude neighbours. The site was set up as the creators found there was nowhere at that time to turn to for support, information or help.

  The original forum was initially set up through the frustration concerning the lack of resources, information and legislation around what we term here as a "Neighbour From Hell" (or "NFH"). The forum was also created to enable people who are suffering with similar problems to come together as a voice for change and most importantly as a means of supporting one another through what can be truly awful times that are often both physically and mentally exhausting.

  Many members have said that just knowing there is someone else who knows what they are going through does not make them feel so alone anymore. As having a NFH can be very isolating, even if people know what you are going through, they do not realise the impact it can have on your life, the stress it can cause or the fact it can make you physically ill.

  NFHiB receives no funding whatsoever from any source, although some members have kindly donated small amounts to help with running costs, the website and the forum has now cost nearly £2,000 to set up, run and maintain on a yearly basis.

  Members have approached different sources to see if funding can be gained both locally and from the national lottery fund. Sadly we were told although it is a community group, as it is not set in one particular area/community, funding is not available.

  We feel that it is worth the cost as there is nowhere else like the NFHiB web site or forum board.

  The forum and website are free to use and access, the only cost is of course the individual's internet charges.

  The site and forum board are run by volunteers who as well as having their own (or past) neighbour problems are there to freely give advice and support to those who need it. The members support each other.

  It seems that these days there is always at least more than one member on the forum board, day or night for those who need support. Often that person who is posting messages at 3am is there as they are unable to sleep due to their neighbour's anti-social behaviour.

  There are now 3,457 registered members on the NFHiB forum board, some of these people (approx 20) are international members as they have also found there is no support in their home country.

  The forum board members are mainly people from the British Isles who have run out of options and need that extra support and advice.

  We try to signpost people in the right direction to get the help they need. Whether they need to contact the relevant council departments, the police, mediation services, Landlords or housing associations etc. The more people can tell us of a story and their background/course of action to date, the more likely they are that the members of NFHiB will be able to help them by offering advice and solutions.

  We do ask though that people do not name themselves, their neighbours or other individuals involved to protect people's identities and also of course if there might be legal action taken in the future identifying any persons involved—this could jeopardise any trial or legal proceedings.

  New members will often compare their situations to others. Sometimes they feel guilty that they see their problem as a major issue, which is great to them, but can be a smaller issue than someone else's. We are very matter of fact about this; if it's a problem to one person then it is a problem, full stop. The size of the problem is irrelevant.

  Although some NFH situations are similar there does not seem to be one particular NFH situation which is more common than others.

  Whether it has started as a noise problem, boundary issue or parking concern, we do see the one continuous factor that nearly always appears is bullying, harassment and intimidation from the NFH towards to victim. This sadly can in some cases turn into assault and criminal damage.

  We also see the same sorts of problems with members trying to solve their own situations.

    —  Mediation is turned down by the other party.

    —  The police are not aware of the law/action to take, often saying it is a civil matter or a "domestic" situation.

    —  The police are unable to respond due to lack of resources and staff; it can take a week in some cases for police attendance, if they arrive at all.

    —  The Environmental Health Office (EHO) are understaffed and under funded and often victims have to wait months for a chance to use noise recording equipment.

    —  In some cases the EHO out of hour's number is not staffed and answer machines are in place, again this seems to be due to under funding and staff shortages.

    —  Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) are often unable to help due to the other party attending CAB for advice and it is seen as a conflict of interests, there is not always another CAB office in the area that people can attend. As you can see this is a major problem in Britain and it seems to be growing alongside the occurrences of anti-social behaviour in general.

  It is often families, it is often children and young people, and it is often older people. It can affect every social class, from every kind of background. Having a bad or unreasonable neighbour does not mean you live on a council estate. We have members who live in million pound homes who suffer from bad neighbours.

  We have people whose neighbours are police officers, lawyers and in one case a magistrate.

  Neighbours From Hell all appear to operate with the same beliefs, eg "I will do as I please and I don't care if it affects others around me, it's my home and I will do as I want."

  Please note: the stories below are individual accounts of member's experiences of Neighbours from hell. These stories have been reproduced and condensed. NFHiB can only pass onto you the information we have been told, we are unable to verify any of theses stories as true and correct. Therefore all stories should be read as alleged accounts.

NON SUCCESS STORIES/ONGOING PROBLEMS

"Planet 24"

Nature of problem

  Sustained anti-social behaviour over two years consisting of: damage to vehicle, canine faeces through the letterbox, threatening graffiti daubed on property, youngsters firing guns in Planet 24's garden.

  Planet 24 is an owner occupier, whose vendor did not disclose the neighbourhood problems on the Sellers Property Information Form.

  Planet 24 is unable to have quiet enjoyment of their home. Their quality of life (including the stress-induced deterioration of their physical health) and income has been seriously affected by the anti-social behaviour.

Steps taken to combat the problem:

  Planet 24 is a constituent of the Prime Minister and has talked to him about the problems—no action appears to have resulted from this.

  Planet 24 has been in contact with multiple agencies and has ascertained that Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABC) have been issued, but appear not to be monitored. The relevant authority has not progressed to the use of Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBO).

  The response of people/agencies has been to suggest that it would be easier for Planet 24 to simply leave.

  A local police officer was convicted of perverting the course of justice for forging Planet 24's signature on a witness statement.

  Planet 24 has made video tapes of the anti-social behaviour and has been in contact with the media. Planet 24 set up the Right to Live Peaceably Campaign and set up a petition. A piece was done for the BBC Video Nation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/videonation/stor...behaviour.shtml

  The local authority appears to be concerned about the bad publicity that Planet 24 has generated.

  Planet 24 has started their own website: www.anti-social-behaviour.co.uk. The police have systematically failed to protect Planet 24's property. There have been burglaries and arson. After pushing for appropriate statutory services to assist, the police inspector agrees to meet Planet 24 at their home.

  The local authority has reneged on offers to help and has misrepresented information by stating that Planet 24 had declined help, the local authority's solicitor stated that there had never been a letter sent. Planet 24 has taken this up with the Chief Executive Officer.

  Planet 24's case was referred to the Home Office who were going to raise the matter with the local authority. A Commissioner was instructed to interview the local authority

  Director of Neighbourhood Services agreed to visit Planet 24 at home to discuss the problems, they were provided with details of 118 incidents suffered. They said that anti-social behaviour is for the police to deal with, not the local authority. Director of Neighbourhood Services only briefed on problems at a very late stage.

  Victim Support have been involved and advised Planet 24 not to leave their property unaccompanied.

  Planet 24 believes she is being "stalked" by the police and council, as she has recently had threatening emails and messages from over the internet. Concern was raised on our own forum board as a new member was asking specific questions about her case and no one else's. After Planet 24's story was moved to a protected area of the forum the new member who had been asking questions about her story asked for their account to be deleted, which it was.

Sunray's story

Nature of the problem

  One family have been terrorising the neighbourhood for two years along with groups of youths and young adults.

  Late night parties, loud thumping music, gangs of about 30 yobs congregating outside of houses early and late evening, smoking drugs, urinating in the street, alcohol cans and bottles smashed all over the road, damaging neighbours' property, abusing neighbours verbally, joy riding with their vehicles mounting the kerb, fighting etc.

  The area is mainly occupied by the elderly members of the community.

Steps taken

  The police are contacted every time there is a disturbance; they offer sympathy and little else as they appear to be unsure of the steps they can take.

  The council are in the early stages of ASB policies and demotion orders, as a council and not for this one particular family who seem to be causing the problems.

  MP contacted.

  Council contacted.

  Neighbourhood watch started.

  Residents/tenants association involved.

  Quote from Sunray: "I have had meetings with my Council and if I am to be honest I found them to be very weak in their approach." However. . . "My Local Police Force are totally the opposite and are extremely positive, if they had their way at this stage NFH would be out of the Neighbourhood Today"

  This story is ongoing.

e.bethuk's story

Nature of the problem

  Situated in the North of England in a mid stone terrace house.

  Arguments between the couple next door which started in the evening and finished at approximately 4 am each day.

  General noise:

  Dog howling for hours a day when it was left alone.

  Music at all times of day and night at very loud volumes.

  Rubbish all over the communal gardens, from where they had dumped things including beds, furniture, cardboard, rubbish bags with food (which the foxes found and ripped open).

  Abuse screamed through the walls and outside the house.

How it started

  It started the night they moved in by drilling to put curtain poles up at 2 am.

  The arguments were a daily occurrence, they were approached and it was explained how thin the walls were and they were being told to save embarrassment.

  The dog, who howled every time it was left alone, was also mentioned, in a reasonable manner, "You will not know this as it happens when you are out but your dog gets very distressed". This is when the abuse started to build up.

  The longest the dog howled was seven hours non stop, causing major distress to e.bethuk's own dog. In turn making her dog bark, due to the first dog howling.

  Animal abuse was witnessed committed by the male of the house by three sets of neighbours (throwing bricks at the dog and kicking the dog). e.bethuk heard the dog being abused once and her husband went to see if it was ok, the dog at this point had been "kicked" out of the house and was wandering the streets with no collar or lead growling at people.

  Abuse towards each other was also heard and witnessed. The damage caused to the rented house was severe and they had to return to carry out repairs on three occasions after they had actually moved out.

  One night an ambulance was called to their house as "he" had put his hand through a mirror trying to punch "her".

  As the situation continued the victims were subjected to having abuse shouted through the walls at regular intervals ie: write this down you ***** ****, and why don't you record this you******** followed by screaming and loud music.

  On one occasion the good neighbours of e.bethuk reported that the NFH had stood outside her front door screaming and pulling faces, at the time there was no one home!

The effects it had

  It affected both victims' sleep pattern, lack of sleep made them upset and irritable.

  Mr e.bethuk was studying at university for a DipSW and Nursing qualification and had to take a year out due to "cluster migraines" caused by the upset, stress and constant noise from next door.

  Both victims were taking medication to help with the stress.

  It was suggested that e.bethuk took sick time from work, but she pointed out to her manager that if she took sick time then she would be at home where the problem was and it could in fact make her more poorly.

People contacted to help

  The EHO regarding the noise: given sound recording equipment.

  The dog warden—regarding the dog noise and the dog wandering the streets on its own and fouling the area.

  The landlord of the house, who didn't believe the victims. He said it was their word against his tenants and why should his tenants lie to him. Incidentally he was a solicitor.

  The EHO and the dog warden witnessed the noise the dog made but said even though they had heard it; it could not be used as evidence as it was against the NFH's human rights. The human rights of the victims appear not to be considered.

  Recording equipment was eventually installed and on the second day of recording the NFHs were moved out as they were unable to pay the rent on that property.

  The landlord apologised to e.bethuk and her husband saying that he had learnt that in fact they were a problem, as they couldn't pay the rent on that property; he had moved them to one of his cheaper properties to regain the rent arrears. As soon as they moved homes the problems in that area increased due to the one couple.

  The landlord also changed the locks to his house as he said the NFHs had been seen hanging around.

  E.bethuk and her husband do not see this story as a success as the system was not the reason the NFH moved out but the fact they had not paid their rent.

Leyton Orient's (LO) story

  Joined NFHiB July 2003 and his story is ongoing.

Nature of the problem

  After one neighbour attacked LO on his own property (November 2001) (resulting in an assault charge on LO from the man who attacked and threatened him and a court case which LO won), LO's other neighbour who was friendly with the first neighbour has taken it upon himself to continue the harassment towards LO and his family. This neighbour is a policeman.

  The first neighbour has now moved but the harassment by the police officer continues.

  LO's NFH has damaged his property mainly in the garden, damaging plants and the fence and then denying all knowledge.

10 September 2004

  This harassment has now resulted in LO being hospitalised for three days after his NFH policeman attacked him for "looking at him",

  Quote from Leyton Orient: "Despite me putting up no resistance he injured me so severely that I suffered a broken and dislocated elbow, very severe bruising and was in hospital for three nights as a result of my injuries! And it was me who got arrested!"

  LO has made a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and has contacted his MP.

  LO believes the NFH is telling untrue stories about him as he is now being harassed by groups of youths claiming he is a paedophile.

  LO has been told by people, who are unwilling to make statements that his policeman NFH has been telling people that LO, a single man in his 40s, has been staring at his children.

17 September 2004

  LO is informed he is to be charged with resisting arrest, the NFH policeman was off duty at the time.

  This means the neighbour issues now have to be put on hold due to LO's bail conditions.

  Quote from LO:

  "I did not resist arrest for three reasons":

  1.  "He broke my elbow almost instantly and I was in no position to resist".

  2.  "I knew he was a Policeman, black belt in Judo and Martial Arts Instructor so I wouldn't have stood a chance".

  3.  "I deliberately didn't resist as it could have got me into trouble had he been hurt".

30 September 2004

  LO met with his MP.

  His MP has written to the police.

25 November 2004

  LO has been charged with disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest. LO has pleaded not guilty and has bail conditions attached to him.

  NFH is trying to provoke LO into an altercation so he breaks the bail condition of having no contact with NFH or NFH's family.

  LO has now moved out to stay with family 90 miles away to avoid the policeman NFH.

  LO has recorded and logged all harassment and intimidation against him from the NFH, the police have said there is nothing they can do as no crime has been committed.

29 November 2004

  LO has finally won the right for legal aid.

  This case is ongoing and has been very stressful for LO. He is on medication to help with the stress and has had to leave his home for a while due to his neighbour trying to intimidate him. This is for his own safety.

  The first neighbour from hell started this ball rolling by attacking LO on his own property sadly the first neighbour was friendly with the second neighbour from hell who has not only victimised LO but has actually attacked him breaking and dislocating his elbow, remembering that this man is a policeman, someone who is supposed to keep the streets safe from such crimes, still LO, who you would think is the victim, has been charged criminally and is awaiting a court hearing in December.

  The members at NFHiB have tried to help as much as possible, sign posting him in the right sort of direction, but LO is finding this very difficult as the police seem reluctant to help as it is "one of their own" who is the NFH.

SUCCESS STORIES

"Caldas"

Harassment/assault/intimidation by neighbour

  Neighbour with known violent background and Criminal Conviction for blockading a Bank with a vehicle and threatening to burn both car and bank.

  "Caldas" subjected to:

  Threatening, abusive and aggressive behaviour Assault.

  Being chased by a vehicle driven by NFH; tailgated and forced off a motorway.

  Foul; obscene and abusive language.

Responses by the authorities

  Quote from "Caldas—"The Police are institutionally opposed to getting involved in what they discount as a `domestic'".

The result

Civil action taken

  1.  Court Injunction to restrain NFH behaviour.

  2.  October 2003—18 day trial, NFH sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for one year, for breaching the injunction.

  3.  NFH ordered to pay costs and damages, at about £62,000. Charge placed on NFH property at Land Registry by "Caldas".

  4.  July 2004—Appeal by NFH regarding a breach of his Human Rights, rejected by Court of Appeal. Additional £12,500 costs awarded.

  5.  October 2004 payment for damages received by "Caldas'" solicitor.

Relevance

    —  Private home-owners face a battle for recognition by any public Authorities when subjected to harassment and anti-social behaviour.

    —  Many NFHiB forum members face similar problems/issues as "Caldas" but do not have the financial resources to pursue civil action, even though they appear (from the information given) to be guaranteed a successful outcome and thus be awarded damages and compensation as a result of litigation.

    —  Fear of failure of any litigation; continued intimidation and fear of reprisals by NFH and their acquaintances lead many NFHiB members to sell their homes and move, at reduced cost due to having to declare an NFH on SPIF document.

    —  Solicitors will not work without payment, usually on a monthly basis and Legal Aid is not available for those in employment with some savings.

"Dizzy's" Story (female)

  Joined NFHiB—August 2003.

  Living in a rented flat.

  Three years of verbal abuse.

  Harassment.

  Intimidation.

  Telephone line of one property cut.

  NFH fixed CCTV in hallway opposite "Dizzy"'s door.

  "Dizzy" locked out of communal hallway.

  Rubbish pushed through letterbox.

  "Dizzy" scared to provide a statement for landlord in case of retaliation.

Action

    —  November 2003 Attempted eviction, through court, by landlord. Judge rules statements "not official enough" and rejected repossession.

    —  February 2004 Further attempt at eviction for non-payment.

    —  March 2004 parents of NFH paid rent arrears, despite NFH receiving housing benefit.

    —  August 2004 NFH successful eviction for rent arrears using bailiffs.

Action/response by the authorities

  None, apart from a chat with NFH by the Police after telephone line cut.—"Insufficient evidence and will not apply an anti-social behaviour order".

Relevance

    —  Inaction by Police due to lack of proof, not willing to explain what proof is needed.

    —  Difficult to evict tenants from privately rented property.

    —  Legislation covering use of CCTV unclear and, at present does not appear to cover recording devices used by private individuals even those which seriously impact on their privacy. This lack of clarity leads to inaction by the Police and continued invasion of privacy by NFH.

    —  Length of time taken for any successful action.

    —  Difficult to get advice locally, isolated until found NFHiB.

    —  Fear of reprisals from NFH when making a statement about their behaviour.

    —  Unusual to see a successful eviction and action by private landlord.

    —  "Dizzy" unable to take civil action due to insufficient funds.

"JustJo"(female)

  Joined NFHiB February 2004

Harassment/assault/intimidation by neighbour

Background on arrival at NFHiB

  Late 2001 bought semi-detached property—immediate noise from next door (two flats).

  All night parties with loud music both inside property and in rear garden at least twice a week; foul language, fighting, and broken windows.

  Subjected to verbal abuse, threats and harassment; vehicle damage.

  Daughters aged seven and five not willing to use garden without parents.

  Following assault of "JustJo" NFH arrested and bound for 6 months on a good behaviour bond.

NFH action since Feb 2004

  Property egged.

  Burning candles left on doorstep.

  Continued harassment, threats; abuse and property damage as above.

  eg May 2004 = 17 incidents of noise/aggressive behaviour between the hours of 11 pm and 4-5 am. 10 of these incidents have crime numbers.

Response by the authorities

  Council

    —  Advised to speak to neighbours—no improvement/increased aggression/harassment/noise.

    —  Noise Log sheets given to Environmental Heath Department of Council +recording equipment used, no immediate action taken against NFH.

    —  Contact council re nuisance barbecues, told that "too many complaints make complainant lose credibility".

Police

    —  Willing to attend but "JustJo" family advised—"cannot even instigate harassment procedures as there are three of them and it is never the same one who causes the trouble and it is always directed at us as a family not an individual."

    —  No response to 999 call made 2300 pm 19 May 2004.

    —  Intervention of more senior Police Officer, at request of "JustJo" family and following advice from NFHiB, led to prosecution for harassment.

    —  June 2004 all three NFH arrested and charged with harassment.

    —  Case adjourned from August until October.

    —  NFH #1 pleaded guilty given two years conditional discharge and ordered to leave the property.

    —  NFH #2 pleaded guilty to 17 counts of harassment; bound over for two years. Subject to a restraining order.

    —  NFH #3 pleaded not guilty. Found guilty; £150 fine and two year restraining order.

Future Action

  Having secured evidence of a number of complaints to the Council by Vendors of the property re noise nuisance "JustJo" family taking civil action against vendors for misrepresenting property at the time of sale.

  6 November 2004: Barrister's advice re civil action against vendor estimated to cost in excess of £50,000 action is proceeding due to devaluation of property despite successful prosecution.

Relevance

    —  Limited advice available for householders suffering from NFH.

    —  Local Council unwilling to take action on behalf of private householders.

    —  Private householders need sufficient funds to attempt to prosecute NFH or Vendors for misrepresentation.

    —  Length of time taken for any action on the part of the Police = three years.

    —  Non-response to 999 calls re abusive and threatening behaviour.

    —  NFH on benefit living alongside privately owned property.

    —  Not a typical result on terms of Police prosecution, more usual that no action is taken.

QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS OF NFHIB FORUM BOARDS

  Chimurenga asks:

    —  Why is it that victims suffering from NFH get so many conflicting responses from the authorities? Should there not be one law for all? Nationwide?

    —  And whose fault is this? Are the Home Office ensuring that every single local authority in the country is aware of procedures and powers?

    —  Why it is that people like us have to fight for something that is supposed to be legally ours anyway? (By this I mean the right to enjoy our homes in peace)

  Jimbo asks:

    —  If possible could you ask them what they intend to do when they move "nfh" next to normal people—basically they have to live somewhere but why do we have to be blighted by them—no compensation just grief that we have put up with and become "victims".

  Planet24 says:

    —  Would welcome helping NFHiB in any way I can—I am out to show that the system is in overload because LA don't tackle the problem when it starts.

30 November 2004


 
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