Category Archives: Blog

A Lack of Data

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 came into place to replace old anti-social behaviour powers (including ASBO’s), as people saw these to be ineffective. In replace of the 19 pre-existing powers, six new powers were put into place including Criminal Behaviour Orders, Civil Injunctions and Community Protection Notices. A spokesperson for the Home Office said that the new reforms gave victims “a stronger voice” and would put “victims and communities at the heart of the response”.

However, there is a strong lack of proof as to how effective new reforms and powers are, due to the Home Office not collecting statistics on most of these powers. Following on from the previous blog about the effectiveness of Community Protection Notices, we see it as a huge weakness that there is no central monitoring of CPN’s, their effectiveness or how often local councils use them.

CPNs are issued at the discretion of local councils which means one council may issue hundreds of CPN’s for issues that another council would not consider CPN matters. The Manifesto Club has been very vocal about this where CPNs are issued too freely, discovering that four councils in the South West of England had issued CPN’s to members of the public for feeding the birds. Feeding the birds is seen as a normal and positive thing and is also encouraged by animal welfare charities, so why are people being sanctioned for it, and additionally, why are they only being sanctioned for it in a specific part of the country?

Reluctance to Use CPNs?

Clearly there are several issues surrounding anti-social behaviour reforms, including Community Protection Notices, which need addressing to ensure victims are getting the best support they can. However, if reports continue to focus on the sometimes unreasonable and seemingly ridiculous reasons CPN’s are introduced, it will overall have a detrimental effect on the powers and reforms. Local authorities may become cautious to implement a CPN for fear of a backlash by the media and professionals, even if it would have been appropriate. This leads to more people able to commit anti-social behaviour and more victims suffering in silence.  There is a need for more best practice examples to help local councils see how they can successfully utilise them to help victims.

ASB Help did some research recently on the Community Trigger and learned of a case where a Community Protection Notice had been used to positive effect.  This was a lady who had suffered abuse and harassment from her neighbour for many years. Despite having difficulty trying to activate the Community Trigger (a problem experienced by many), eventually a Community Protection Notice was issued against her abusive neighbour for 12 months. Since this was issued, the neighbour has not breached the CPN, which proves that in the right situation, a Community Protection Notice is the correct order for the local agencies to issue.

However, there were many issues noted surrounding the whole process of acquiring a CPN including the difficulty of actually getting the perpetrator to answer the door to receive the CPN! The whole process took years and caused the victim and her daughter a lot of unnecessary distress. Local agencies should work together to provide effective care to support victims and implement the most appropriate orders and reforms, with injunctions and court proceedings being a last resort. The new legislation was supposed to make it quicker to take action against anti-social behaviour and avoid things dragging on for years.

Basic Data Required

To properly understand how effective the different elements of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 are working on the ground, central data needs to be collected.  With some basic data on how widely the different powers are being used, we can at least get a picture as to whether certain areas are over-using or under-using them, and where to get some best-practice examples to help practitioners use them effectively.

PCC promotion of the Community Trigger

What have Police and Crime Commissioners got to do with anti-social behaviour?

Well, we would suggest they have quite a lot to do with it!  Firstly, when they run for this elected post, they speak out about how they will help victims of both crime and anti-social behaviour.  They also speak out about helping vulnerable people, and in our experience it is often vulnerable people who are suffering from persistent anti-social behaviour which is making their lives a misery.

The government agrees that PCCs have a role to play – in its white paper ‘Putting Victims First’ it stressed the fact that PCCs have a key role to play in holding local agencies to account for the way they respond to victims of anti-social behaviour.

This white paper led to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and the statutory guidance required PCCs to be directly consulted in setting up the Community Trigger/ASB Case Review in their local area.  Unfortunately the guidance falls short of requiring them to do anything further.  They ‘may’ be directly involved in the procedure through auditing case reviews, receiving appeals and/or monitoring the process itself.

With no mandate, many Police and Crime Commissioners have chosen to ignore it completely.  Clear evidence of this is how few PCC websites have a webpage explaining what the Community Trigger is and how to activate it.

Surely this is not too difficult to do?

Why should Police and Crime Commissioners promote the Community Trigger?

A review of each PCC’s Police and Crime Plans reveals the following:

bullet    63% (26/41)) of Police and Crime Plans have ‘Protecting the Vulnerable’ as one of their key priorities. The remaining 37% have mention of vulnerable victims within their plan. So 100% of Plans want to protect the vulnerable.

bullet     37% have a specific priority to tackle ASB. Sometimes this is included within ‘tackle crime and ASB’, in other cases it is specifically ASB.

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) often meet people in their surgeries who complain about problems with anti-social behaviour so are also aware of the problems on the ground with ongoing failings from local agencies to respond effectively.

Given the Police and Crime plans suggest protecting vulnerable victims is a priority for them we believe they should have information on their website to explain to people what the Community Trigger is and how they can activate it in their local area.

In June 2018 only 21% of PCC websites had this information available. This represents 9 PCCs. A further 4 PCCs had some information on their website about the Community Trigger but it was only focused on the appeals process, or just a press release about its introduction in 2014.

The 9 PCCs who had information for victims about the Community Trigger (also called ASB Case Review) were:

1. Cheshire
2. Derbyshire
3. Devon and Cornwall
4. Gwent
5. Linconshire
6. Merseyside
7. Surrey
8. Warwickshire
9. West Yorkshire

Best Practice

On some websites you can navigate to the Community Trigger from the Home Page. Derbyshire is a good example of this: https://www.derbyshire-pcc.gov.uk/Home.aspx where it can be found under the ‘Supporting Victims’ tab.

When PCC websites give links to how to activate the Community Trigger in each local area, they need to be sure the links are working since this same Derbyshire page contains faulty links.

Some good examples of how to set out a page on the Community Trigger can be found here:

Lincolnshire – https://lincolnshire-pcc.gov.uk/victim-services-and-information/community-trigger/ (However, arguably it would be more helpful to give a link to the appropriate page on each local authority website rather than to their home page.)

Warwickshire – https://www.warwickshire-pcc.gov.uk/helpingyou/community-trigger/ (However, once you click through to the Safer in Warwickshire site, there are again faulty links)

Merseyside – https://www.merseysidepcc.info/home/down-to-business/community-trigger.aspx This has links that work and in some cases give a named contact for victims.

West Yorkshire – http://www.westyorkshire-pcc.gov.uk/how-we-work/our-outcomes/tackle-crime-and-anti-social-behaviour/community-trigger.aspx  This provides a succinct summary of the Community Trigger with working links.

Campaign

ASB Help believes all victims of persistent anti-social behaviour should know that the Community Trigger exists and may be appropriate for them to use.

ASB Help believes PCCs are in a good position to help promote the Community Trigger and it meets their own priority of protecting vulnerable people.

At a minimum, ASB Help believes PCCs should have a clear page on their website to explain what the Community Trigger is and how it can be activated in their local area.

ASB Help also expects PCCs to take an interest where a victim is experiencing problems with the Community Trigger process and be willing to take an active role in ensuring the Community Trigger is functioning properly under their watch.

ASB Help will campaign for PCCs to promote the Community Trigger and will continue to refer to local PCC offices when approached by individual victims suffering from anti-social behaviour who have turned to the Community Trigger and yet the ASB continues.

Community Protection Notice – how successful is it?

What is the Community Protection Notice?

The Community Protection Notice (CPN) was introduced in 2014, under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act. The notice allowed local authorities to impose specific sanctions to the individual who had been issued the Community Protection Notice. These included the individual being prevented from doing certain things. The Community Protection Notice has been met with some criticism, due to the subjectivity of the notice. As it is down to local councils, there are issues of inconsistency across the country, which can be argued is unfair to the victims of Anti-Social Behaviour, and places them in a ‘postcode lottery’.

The Community Protection Notice in action:

One recent example of this is in East Sussex, where a couple (Mr and Mrs Jacklin) have been issued with a Community Protection warning letter, which prevents them from looking into nearby houses, due to harassment allegations. Despite them being issued with the notice, they were the ones who originally complained about their neighbours, making allegations of verbal abuse and noisy builders. The article, which can be viewed here, mentions that the dispute has been ongoing for five years.

With cases of neighbour disputes, there is a much higher chance of the case being resolved through mediation if it is dealt with early on. This means the case will not be taken to local authorities and court, and avoids the victim having to endure any more distress. In addition to this, the warning letter also instructs that Mr and Mrs Jacklin must not be “perceived by any person to be looking into any neighbours property from outside their property”. This is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to police. Even if the neighbours had installed CCTV, it would be very difficult to prove they were looking in their general direction, and could be put down to coincidence. Whilst this type of sanction is impossible to police, (which suggests it would be unsuccessful), it is also very restricting on Mr and Mrs Jacklin, preventing them from accessing the beach. It can be argued their quality of life is being impacted due to the Community Protection Notice, something which the notice was originally set up to avoid.

Furthermore, when the Community Protection Notice was originally created, it stated that in order for a protection notice to be issued; “the individual’s conduct must be having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those locally” (More information on the Community Protection Notice can be found here). There is a complaint about Mr and Mrs Jacklin peering into the windows of the neighbour’s house. If that is occurring, surely the Community Protection warning should prohibit peering into their home and trespassing on their property, not go to the extreme of forbidding them to even look towards the neighbour’s property. This does not seem to be a proportionate punishment.

As Mr and Mrs Jacklin had originally complained themselves about light and noise pollution, and also verbal abuse from their neighbours, it begs the question as to why they were not considered to be victims, and instead were branded as the offenders and sanctioned accordingly. Often in neighbourhood disputes, there are no clear victims or offenders. Both parties are usually partly responsible for the dispute and if CPNs are to be used, it may be appropriate to issue both parties with one to control the behaviour causing distress on both sides. However, if this is not the case, more needs to be done to ensure victims’ voices are heard by local authorities and the police.

How the Community Trigger can help:

If a victim of anti-social behaviour feels they are not being listened to and no action is being taken, we would recommend they consider the Community Trigger as a way of making their voices heard. The Community Trigger allows victims the right to demand that agencies such as the police and local authorities deal with persistent anti-social behaviour. If you have reported three separate incidents of anti-social behaviour in the past six months and no-one seems to be doing anything about it, activate the Community Trigger to get a review of your case. See our Community Trigger Directory here.

Whilst the Community Protection Notice was originally set up as a way to help victims and ensure they receive justice and support, its subjectivity and unrealistic sanctions mean that often it is unsuccessful. When used in the correct situation, it may help victims. However, in neighbourhood disputes where there is no clear victim, it may actually make the situation worse.

Confusion Reigns

Community Trigger Confusion

The more I hear from people who have tried to activate the Community Trigger, the more I must conclude that there is confusion at every level.

I had thought the confusion was reserved for the actual victims – something I have documented extensively – from the perplexity of it going by two names to the baffling threshold. However, the confusion is much more widespread than this to include individuals within the agencies itself, either not knowing what it is about, or simply incapable of processing it properly.

I am left even more confused this week on finding that the Home Office has published its updated statutory guidance to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in the quietest way possible (on Christmas Eve!) and in the process completely ignoring suggestions to use it as an opportunity to promote the Community Trigger.  As such it remains still something of a hidden mystery.

You perhaps think I exaggerate. Well, we have recently been involved in some research with individuals who have activated the Community Trigger and some of the experiences illustrate just how bad the situation is. Not a single example of an effective process with results. The reality is starkly different:

“I filed the community trigger I think around February, March time. By June I think it was I still had nothing from them so I was obviously chasing them and I think it took about two months for me even just to get a letter of a first response.”

“They said it didn’t meet the criteria, it wasn’t deemed significant enough and therefore it wouldn’t be triggered.  Which I found quite strange, but there you go.”

“To be honest I don’t know whether it’s made a difference or not because there hasn’t been any feedback on it so I couldn’t tell you whether things are quiet because that has done something about it or whether it’s just the time of year or because the police are going down when I’m calling them out, but I have no idea.”

“That meeting [case review] was on the 31st of August.  After numerous requests through the supervisor of the council for the letter I was promised, I got it in March.”

“So I filled it in and the next week, a week later, the police contacted me and I thought ‘Ooh, that worked quickly!’, but of course it was nothing to do with that.  They had randomly contacted me to say that because their ABC had failed they were going to take it to some meeting or other with the people who led on this kind of stuff, and then they were going to let me know what happened in that meeting.”  

Confusion at all levels

There are many concerns over the actual Community Trigger/ASB Case Review and what it is trying to achieve.  I had naively thought, however, that the basic processes of informing someone about their Community Trigger would have been followed.  It appears not.

Confusion reigns and I have to admit it all starts to look rather farcical.  We have been contacted by victims who need to activate their local Trigger through the police’s 101 number.  Yet when they request the Trigger, there is confusion on the other end of the line – the call handler does not know what it is!

People are being kept in the dark until someone who happens to have heard of the Community Trigger such as the local MP or an individual (and clued-up) PCSO or housing officer suggests it.    Yet how frustrating for them  – a victim finally finds an official who wants to help, but then they are thwarted by a process where the tight deadlines set out in legislation are not met and no feedback is given to the victim.

I have spoken to perfectly reasonable people who just want to understand what can and cannot be done.  They just want to be informed and be treated with the courtesy they deserve, and which they are promised on the council, police or housing association’s website.  They have taken the time to complete a Community Trigger application form and yet no-one can be bothered to get in contact with them, never mind give them the single point of contact they are supposed to have!

Can it ever be fit for purpose?

Only if the multiple layers of confusion are stripped away.  If the Community Trigger is really ever going to help victims of persistent anti-social behaviour, it must be made simpler.  If non-vulnerable people are wading in mists of confusion over this, coupled with downright incompetence on the part of some officials, how can the most vulnerable in our society ever have access to it?  Those with learning disabilities, or those with a physical or mental health condition, or ethnic minorities with English as a second language, or older people? The list goes on and we all know they represent a high percentage of those who are most affected by persistent anti-social behaviour.

Where can they go if all local agencies fail them?  The Home Office and the Victims’ Commissioner will send victims back to their local areas to get results to their local issues.  My sense is that Police and Crime Commissioners are the best placed to stand up and be counted – they can be a strong advocate for victims eligible for the Community Trigger.  They have authority and clout to see processes improved and action taken, but without a mandate, it is down to personal choice.

As we move towards 2018, we will continue to campaign for the Community Trigger to be made fit for purpose and for people to put words into action and actually put victims first.

Neighbour Dispute Confusion

I sense there is a rather sketchy distinction going on across the country between anti-social behaviour and a neighbour dispute.  At best this is causing confusion.  At worst it is leaving innocent, vulnerable victims ignored and without proper support and help.

Nothing was done because it was labelled a neighbour dispute.

Is this a familiar cry?  As I speak to people who have tried to activate the Community Trigger, and to those who have tried for years to get results, this seems to be a familiar theme.  Once labelled a neighbour dispute, police officers in particular can push a problem into an entirely different category.  A category which even allows them to say ‘the Community Trigger is not appropriate for this case”.

I have had this said to me recently by police officers.  I have also spoken to a family who battled for years to get something done about the harassment and intimidation they experienced which had been labelled as a neighbour dispute.  This is also what left Bijan Ebrahimi at the mercy of his killer – anti-social behaviour labelled as a neighbour dispute.

How can this mis-categorisation occur?

I would suggest it is relatively easy for this mis-categorisation as a neighbour dispute to occur, especially with perpetrators who are well aware of their rights with regard to anti-social behaviour and neighbour disputes.

Person A complains of their neighbour, B’s, behaviour.  The police go round to speak to B who invents things about person A and tells the police what they too have done.  The police breathe a sigh and assume ‘this is yet another neighbour dispute’, go back to the station and label it as such.  Look how easy it is!

The major problem is, no-one has checked whether person B is telling the truth or not.  The next time person A calls to complain – and it is very likely that the behaviour has intensified because person B knows that person A has complained about them – the police look at their records, see it is a neighbour dispute, and crucially we believe, their behaviour changes as a result. Instead of concern for person A’s safety, there is frustration at the call about just an argument between two neighbours, something taking up precious police time and not an issue for them to deal with.

Person A often has no idea of the counter-allegations made by person B.  They are left to wonder why the police seem so unresponsive and why they are not getting any proper support.  Imagine their fear, their sense of vulnerability, and the feeling of having nowhere to turn.

How can a victim be better protected?

Awareness, awareness, awareness.

We believe the police need to be aware of this huge risk of failing to recognise personal, targeted ASB, and instead mistakenly labelling it as a neighbour dispute.

We want to ensure victims are well informed that this can happen and be prepared to check with officers how their case has been categorised, and do all they can to ensure it is not a neighbour dispute if they are innocent.  We are not naive – there are also many neighbour disputes which are just that – two sides both making life difficult for the other, and taking up valuable police time in the process.

Yet, we fear that there are too many victims of serious anti-social behaviour that are not being heard and not receiving swift support and protection.  Victims who do not know about the Community Trigger which would enable them to get a multi-agency review of their case after they have reported 3 separate incidents (in the past six months) and do not feel there has been a satisfactory response.  Some who may know about the Community Trigger but are told they are not eligible to activate it even!

Some areas have emotional support for victims of targeted anti-social behaviour.  It is extremely concerning that some victims may not be given proper access to local support all because their case has been mis-categorised as a neighbour dispute.

We do not want to see more tragic cases like those of Fiona Pilkington and Bijan Ebrahimi, yet I fear we will if we do not pay more attention to issues like these.  It is our suspicion that some agencies label ASB as a neighbour dispute to avoid having to undertake proper investigation.

However, we believe that if some of these situations were properly investigated at the outset, and nipped in the bud with early warnings it could take a lot less police time in the long run.  If a clear message was sent out that harassment and intimidation is not acceptable, some time spent at the beginning of the case could prevent it rolling on for years with all the phone calls to the police along the way.

Hypothetical of course, yet something worth dwelling on, especially since it has been proved that early intervention works.

This week marks the third anniversary of the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, legislation designed to put victims first and ensure swift action was taken to stop ASB.  If the negative feedback from the Community Trigger is anything to go by, the legislation is falling far short of its goal.

Suffering in Silence

We believe there are many victims of anti-social behaviour who are suffering in silence in the UK at this time.

I read with interest a while back this article in the East Lothian Courier: http://www.eastlothiancourier.com/news/tranent/15200968.Residents__afraid_to_call_police__over_youth_gangs/ which clearly highlighted the issues when someone experiences anti-social behaviour.

Gangs of up to 30 youths were gathering at a local park leading to cars being vandalised and anti-social behaviour.  The police reported that they had only received three calls about incidents which took place.  However, on social media many more incidents were being highlighted and it was this which led the police to investigate the scale of the problems.

People were frightened by the prospect of police visiting their homes and being seen to do so by the youths.  They feared they would then become a target of their anti-social behaviour.  So instead, in fear, they chose to go on suffering in silence.

The Scale of the Problem

ASB Help has an online survey and one of the questions we ask is whether the respondent has reported the anti-social behaviour they are experiencing.  If they answer No, we ask the reason for that.  Sometimes it is because they did not know who to contact, others felt it would be a waste of time or didn’t want the hassle of going to court.  However, over half of respondents who have not reported the ASB, say that it is because they are worried it would make the situation worse or are too scared due to intimidation.

Our survey indicates only 84% of respondents have reported the ASB.  So 16% haven’t, half of those because of fear.

If we were to take this figure and apply it to the national statistics it produces some very concerning numbers of those potentially suffering in silence.

In the last Crime Survey of England and Wales, approximately 1.8 million incidents of ASB were reported to the police (note this does not include other incidents reported only to the local council or housing associations).  If you are experiencing anti-social behaviour and report it to the police, it is probably pretty serious.

If this only represents 84% of total incidents, then the 16% not reporting it would amount to around 340,000 incidents.  If half do not report it due to fear of retaliation, could it be possible that 170,000 people in England and Wales are suffering in silence every year?

The Most Vulnerable Suffering?

Let’s remember this number represents only incidents reported to the police, not including the council.  If you are going to the police, you can be sure these are the more serious situations (not fly-tipping, dog fouling etc).  We can be sure that those who are too scared to report it are probably experiencing some of the most concerning incidents.  This is extremely important.

The government wants to put victims first and looks at high risk cases and helping the vulnerable.  Yet nothing is done to identify vulnerable victims who do not report the problem.  The police are less likely to spot issues now.  This story in East Lothian Courier illustrates my point perfectly.  Thankfully the police became aware of the Facebook activity by concerned residents – with police strapped for resources, they are certainly less likely to simply stumble upon a problem whilst on the beat.

What about if the victim is not part of a community, does not have access to the Internet at home and/or chooses not to communicate through social media channels?  Where can they turn when they are too scared to call the police?

We know what can happen when a vulnerable person contacts the police and does not get proper protection nor a proper response – Bijan Ebrahimi was one of these people and was eventually murdered by the perpetrator of the ASB; Fiona Pilkington was another and her despair led her to take her own life and that of her daughter.

People in our society, especially the most vulnerable, must be able to have confidence in their local authorities to act to stop the ASB and to protect them in the process.  Until we see this more clearly, including a transparent and effective Community Trigger process, I fear many more people every year are going to be suffering in silence, terrorised and tormented, often in their own home or immediate vicinity.

Don’t suffer in silence – agencies can only act if you report it, but let them know your fears.  

Victims being Failed

Stalking victims being failed, say watchdogs” (BBC on 5th July 2017)

Bijan Ebrahimi: Police ‘failed’ murdered man for years.” (BBC on 5th July 2017)

There is a familiar theme here in these 2 reports that came out last week.  One report was published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the other by HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary).  Both contain worrying conclusions of how victims are not being listened to and not properly protected.

This was also a message that came out of the tragic death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission concludedthat the police’s error in not identifying Fiona Pilkington and her children as a vulnerable family “lay at the core” of their failure to provide a cohesive and effective approach.  Incidents were too often dealt with by police officers in isolation and with an unstructured approach.

Victims being failed.  It is what we are hearing from the Grenfell Tower residents. Last week we heard it about victims of stalkers – that many victims are being failed with poorly run investigations and insufficient protection given to victims.  We also see how badly one vulnerable victim was treated in Bristol, with such a lack of support that he ultimately ended up losing his life as he sought to get evidence and find someone who would believe him and act to stop the anti-social behaviour he was suffering.

How many more Bijan Ebrahimis and Fiona Pilkingtons do we need to have before change is made?  What would that change look like?

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 was designed to put victims first.  However, in practice, much of that seems to be just in word rather than deed.  Our biggest concern is that whatever powers are put in place in theory and through legislation to protect victims or give them a louder voice, in practice individual victims can still be ignored, or as in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi told to ‘Shut up’!

A victim or group of victims who are being ignored now have the ability to insist on a case review through the Community Trigger process.  Yet we know of a victim of stalking who felt she was being failed by the authorities and when she activated the Community Trigger was simply told a review had happened and ‘that all processes had been followed’.  However, she is still suffering and not receiving any support or protection.

The Appeal process for the Community Trigger often goes to the same agency that managed it in the first place.  This is a problem but there should also be no need for genuine victims to have to jump through so many hoops.  In some areas of England and Wales, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office is involved in managing Appeals.  When the Government’s White Paper: Putting Victims First was written, PCCs were specifically mentioned as people to whom victims could go for help.

In practice, and in our experience, the reality is far different.  Police and Crime Commissioners have no mandate to act in the area of anti-social behaviour so many do not.  Even when we have asked a PCC office about an individual, we are only told that they have called the local police and been assured that all necessary support has been offered.  Everything is taken at face value and no checks are done.

Without checks, how will we know who is being failed?  Only when the failure has been severe and the investigation done.  This is a serious problem in the whole system – not just in anti-social behaviour but across many spheres of public life. When members of the public cry out for help, what confidence can they have that their small voice will be heard when up again big organisations like the Council and the Police?  The solution cannot be more red tape and requiring more of already cash-strapped public services, yet there needs to be some better way of empowering victims in an effective way.

Independent Chair?

If someone in a situation like that of Bijan Ebrahimi approached us today, we would recommend they activate the Community Trigger which has been set up for victims who feel like they are being ignored by local agencies.  However, it is worth mentioning that in Bijan Ebrahimi’s case, the Community Trigger probably would not have yielded results unless there was an independent member of the panel.

If he was known to the main agencies, including the police and the Council, it is easy to see how they might skew a case review right from the outset by saying that the victim is a persistent complainant.  We believe the Community Trigger (also known as ASB Case Review) would have so much more potential power if it was chaired by someone independent from the whole case, trained to critically challenge the evidence and any bias.  To have that independent perspective could have shed crucial light onto the situation and made a real difference.

 

Fundamental Flaw

We believe that there is a fundamental flaw underlying victim empowerment when individuals are dealing with such big organisations like Councils and social landlords.  The relationship is so unbalanced that it is easy to see how a victim could be ignored and feel powerless.

The Victim’s Voice

From our perspective, as a charity seeking to empower victims of anti-social behaviour, it is both sobering and deeply concerning to learn of how residents of Grenfell Tower sought to alert their Tenant Management Organisation to the fire risk of their tower block, but to no avail  This was not just one resident, one sole voice trying to ensure safety for their own home.  This was a group of residents, coming together to raise the alert.

Our website encourages victims of anti-social behaviour to not suffer in silence but to report the behaviour to the relevant authorities.  We suggest that if a number of people are affected, that they consider putting a petition together to make their voices louder.  We approach this with a positive attitude and optimism as to results.  A tragedy like that of Grenfell Tower fire makes it very difficult to retain that optimism.  It hints at a fundamental flaw in the rights of each individual in the UK.

The Most Vulnerable

Many have spoken of the fact that residents of Grenfell Tower were some of the poorer people in our society.  Some of the most vulnerable.  With a website dedicated to Fiona Pilkington, a small voice speaking up about harassment towards her and her daughter, it is easy to see how she was ignored and felt powerless to do anything about it, seeing the only alternative as taking her own life and that of her daughter.

So where does that leave the Community Trigger, and the Community Remedy, given that they have been designed to put victims first.  In the light of what we see at Grenfell, is the Community Trigger really providing empowerment for victims of persistent ASB or is it just lip-service to make it seem like victims are being put first.

The Localism Act 2011 gave local authorities a lot more power and authority over their own areas whilst the Audit Commission was disbanded and with it any central way of monitoring how local authorities are complying with the law and providing value for money.  Transparency International has highlighted the risk of corruption in their report: “Corruption in UK Local Government: The Mounting Risks”.

We have seen the lack of central monitoring of local government practice with the Community Trigger legislation – the Home Office no longer has any legal right to police what is happening at the local level.  No one seems to.  The statutory guidance to accompany the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is currently being revised, but however good it is, if no one is ensuring local Councils put it into practice, it is not going to be at all effective at improving the way the legislation is implemented.  This is surely a fundamental flaw in the whole process.

A Council may choose to follow the law and ensure there are transparent processes to protect victims  However, if a Council chose not to pay much attention to a victim, create new reasons why they couldn’t undertake a Community Trigger case review or just walk through the process without properly listening to the victim or investing much money, care or consideration to the case, what recourse does the victim really have?

The Elephant in the Room

Mental Health and Anti-Social Behaviour

This week is Mental Health Awareness week.  As we hear from victims and speak to agencies, it is clear that mental health and anti-social behaviour are closely interlinked.

It is a difficult topic and we would suggest that often in cases of ASB it is the elephant in the room – that is, the obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss or challenge.

Doubtful?  Listen to the account of this victim who completed our online survey:

“I have been accused of being put here by the Housing Association and Council to spy on my neighbour, then he raved for 4 hours about cults making sacrifices and murdering people, that his car had been tampered with by residents, that myself and other residents were all acting together in a cult, watching him with binoculars and using radios to communicate with each other.  He says the nurses from nearby home are involved too.  He told me that men dressed all in back go into his house when he’s not there.  Says tenancy officer had been accessing his medical records and that he goes into his house when it’s empty.  Accused me of putting blue crystals in his water and tampering with his supply.”

The upshot of all this, which has caused real distress to the victim, is that the Housing Association has closed his complaint because the person is not violating their tenancy agreement.

The Challenges when Mental Health is involved

There are unique challenges when there is mental health involved.  First of all, in a situation like that described above, both perpetrator and victim are victims – one of the anti-social behaviour, the other of what would seem to be mental health leading to delusions.  There are also people who report anti-social behaviour who themselves are suffering mental health.  This may affect their perception of what is really anti-social, and therefore seem unreasonable in their complaint.

Further complications include:

  1. some agencies can seem reluctant to get involved in reported ASB or a neighbour dispute when there is mental health involved
  2. some victims are left to suffer in silence because the agency they report the ASB to is unsure what to do about the perpetrator because of his or her mental health and the vulnerability involved
  3. because of confidentiality, often the victim cannot even be told that the perpetrator is suffering mental health – it is never mentioned, only suspected

The Community Trigger

We have championed the Community Trigger since its introduction in October 2014.  Interestingly, we have been told by agencies that they sometimes recommend the Community Trigger to a victim they are working to help, because “it is the only way to get Mental Health round the table”.

This is extremely concerning.  An agency like the Council needs to get the victim to activate a formal process like the Community Trigger to get the Mental Health department of the same Council to attend a meeting and contribute their solution to the situation.

We are sure there is a high correlation between mental health and anti-social behaviour, especially given how subjective the definition of anti-social behaviour is, and how dependent on perception it is.  Dealing effectively with anti-social behaviour involves good partnership working.  It also involves individuals and communities being reasonable and tolerant but seeing action taken when behaviour is unacceptable.

If mental health is hidden and unspoken, proper partnership and communication is impossible and victims will continue to be fobbed off and unsupported, and those suffering the debilitating effects of mental health will not receive the support they so desperately need.  So let’s get the elephant out of the room and be more mental health aware.

Trigger brings Positive Results

ASB Help has outlined many of the failings of the Community Trigger (or ASB Case Review) in our report: “The Community Trigger: Empowerment or Bureaucratic Exercise”.  However, it is still our belief that it has the potential to make a real difference.  Here is a case study which shows how positive results can come out of the process.

Housing Association inexperience

Scenario: a tenant of a Housing Association complained to her local Council that despite making numerous reports to her landlord about noise nuisance from a neighbour, nothing had been done.  She said that her requests for updates from the landlord were ignored.

On investigation it was found that the problem neighbour had moved out of the property to live with a new partner.  This meant that her son was now living alone at the property and was having regular, rowdy parties with his student friends.

The Housing Association reported that they were having trouble getting evidence on which they could act.  They had also been unable to speak to the named tenant to discuss the complaints with her.

The Community Trigger

The victim contacted the Council to activate the Community Trigger.  The threshold was met and the review meeting was attended by representatives of the Housing Association, the Council, the Police and Victim Support.

As the different partners met to discuss the case, it became apparent that the Housing Association lacked the confidence and knowledge to deal with the issues.  The Housing Association had been so focused on the ASB that it had overlooked the potential subletting issue.

Positive Results

The Community Trigger Panel advised the Housing Association to issue a ‘notice to quit’ as the named tenant was believed to be living elsewhere.  They also offered advice on how to monitor noise.

The Housing Association followed the Community Trigger Panel’s recommendation and wrote to the named tenant who, fearful of losing her own home, moved back to the property.  The noisy parties stopped immediately and there was complete respite for the victim.

The Community Trigger process was a success and brought respite for the victim.  It also brought positive results for the Housing Association and its capacity to deal with issues of ASB too.  The Council has offered ongoing support to the Housing Association which is really beneficial to both parties.

Our Comments

It is so encouraging to see the positive results from this Community Trigger application.  We are glad the victim knew that it was available to them to use and that they will have seen such a great result from the process.

It is also great to see the Housing Association, rather than going on the defensive, was open about its inexperience and has accepted help.  This is key to an effective Community Trigger process – that all parties around the table can be open and honest about what they have done to resolve anti-social behaviour, and be willing and ready to learn how they could improve.  Recommendations were made, then were implemented, with a positive result all round.  Wonderful to see!