Defining Harassment

They said there is nothing they can do as our neighbours behaviour is not harassment! This leaves our young son terrified of an adult who continually stares at him, shouts at him, and approaches him.” ‘James’, Cumbria

Much of anti-social behaviour is highly subjective. This means different people interpret it in different ways. To one person, the behaviour is anti-social; to another it is not. This is the same for officials as for victims.

Harassment is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘aggressive pressure or intimidation’. Anti-social behaviour is something that is likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. There is no question the behaviour in this story has caused distress. Whether it has also caused harassment seems to be less clear, and have changed over time too.

‘James’ tells his story:

“Our neighbour has harassed us for 15 years and was given an Acceptable Behaviour Contract by the Police for harassment. He started harassing our 5 year old son in 2009. His latest behaviour consisted of shouting aggressively at our son who is now 11, walking towards him, and calling him a “coward” and a “weakling”. Our son was visibly scared and is reluctant to play outside even in our own garden.

Two PCSO’s said we should report it to the Police so that an officer with more powers can take action as it was harassment. We also took advice from another officer who said it was not only harassment but possibly a Pubic Order Offence. Officers didn’t arrive until we insisted over 24 hours later. They said there is nothing they can do as our neighbours behaviour is not harassment! We asked them to check with their superiors. A day later they called us in the evening to say that the Duty Sergeant would be taking no action either. This leaves our young son terrified of an adult who continually stares at him, shouts at him, and approaches him.

We have experienced verbal abuse, tailgating when driving, continual staring whenever we are in our garden, outside our home, or in public. We have also had a tree cut down within our garden, litter thrown into our garden and abusive language… This has gone on since about 2002 and is all from the same neighbour.

Another neighbour moved away in 2010 partly as a result of this man’s behaviour. She wrote to the Police saying what he was doing and saying that we did nothing wrong.

I have had trouble sleeping for a number of years, fearing to go outside, and eventually had a nervous breakdown in early 2014. I am unable to work and on medication. My wife suffers from stress.

We have tried mediation (our neighbours ignored the agreement), we have a 40,000 word diary of events, we fitted CCTV, and reported events to the Police who, with one exception, have done nothing.”

Our Comments

What seems so odd here is not just that nothing is being done, but the completely confused message ‘James’ and his family have been given.

First of all there was an ABC (Acceptable Behaviour Contract) in place for this neighbour because of harassment – so at that point it was clearly recognised as harassment.

Two PCSOs felt it was harassment as did another officer. Yet when then police officers arrived, they felt there was nothing they could do because it wasn’t harassment.

Is it any surprise James concludes “don’t rely on help from the Police”?

We would recommend trying to get someone else in a position of authority to agree with James that the behaviour his family is experiencing is indeed harassment – perhaps writing to the Police Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner, or consulting with his local Councillor.