Tag Archives: harassment

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.

Housing Association failure

Every organisation has been helpful but not my landlords.” Edward, Essex

Noise which has turned into harassment is pushing Edward into deep despair. He shares of his feelings of frustration, unhappiness, mistrust, helplessness, anger and loneliness which is with him every day. Add to that tiredness – the mental and physical fatigue with the anti-social behaviour itself as well as with the lack of answers to solve the problem.

What started as slamming fire doors has developed to his neighbours making intimidating war cries when he turns his TV or kettle on, cheering when he leaves the house and giggling when a drill was turned on at 1:30am.

Edward has turned to his Housing Association to get results and has been met with sheer incompetence and apathy. They have lost a diary he submitted last year, say they will visit the neighbour but do not, and say that they have visited Edward but he was there and heard no knock, and in any case they could have pressed the buzzer instead. They have been obstructive at every turn.

It sounds like the landlord isn’t too bothered to really investigate the situation. Edward sums it up: “every organisation has been helpful but not my landlords.”

Edward now listens to his TV with headphones or subtitles and goes out to the library or anywhere but home.

Our Analysis

This is clearly wrong. Edward is in deep despair but the Housing Association has shown a complete failure to act. The victim is being ignored, fobbed off, probably because they know intervention will create a lot of work. That is NOT a reason not to act.

We would definitely recommend that Edward activate the Community Trigger. By activating this multi-agency case review, we would expect to find the Council and Police making strong recommendations to the Housing Association to address this anti-social behaviour and bring much-needed respite to Edward.

Vulnerability still Neglected

Restorative Justice is a technique that can bring great results. However, when it comes to victims experiencing significant vulnerability, we believe RJ should come with a warning “Use with Care”.

We have not focused much attention on the Restorative Justice element of dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour and we are not aware of how extensive the use of the Community Remedy has been.

We have heard from some individual victims who have questioned the suggestion by police that they meet with their harasser or stalker (and at times this suggestion has been quite forceful). It was therefore comforting to read that this is an issue recognised by the police and was specifically mentioned in a speech the Home Secretary delivered last month at the Police Federation Annual Conference. Speaking first about domestic violence, Theresa May said:

“I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases. But I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”

She then specifically mentioned victims of stalking and harassment as among the vulnerable people neglected by the police. We are glad to see that this has been noted. There is a recognition that these crimes are still investigated with different tools and often less urgency than other crimes that pose much less risk to individuals and communities.

The purpose of creating the new anti-social behaviour legislation in 2014 was to put victims first and give the police and other agencies quicker, more effective powers to bring respite to those victims. It is concerning, then, to learn that harassment and stalking are still not being tackled as a matter of urgency. As the Home Secretary went on to say:

As HMIC found last year, not a single police force in England and Wales is outstanding at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims, and 31 forces are judged to be either inadequate or requiring improvement.

We have been invited to be part of a police-led ASB vulnerability working group, seeking to develop a cross service / agency vulnerability toolkit and assessment process. The hope is that this group will help drive national standards in this key area through building up appropriate products as well as sharing good practice. It is good to see steps being taken to address these failings and we are delighted to have the opportunity to share the experiences we hear from victims of anti-social behaviour, with a view to ensuring they get a better service and sensitivity to their particular situation.

If you have a story to share, do add your voice to that of others in our survey.

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.

Stalking not taken Seriously

“There very soon comes a time in stalking/harassment crime when SOMEONE has to do SOMETHING PRACTICAL to intervene. Only they don’t.” ‘Elaine’ of Bristol

We receive a whole variety of stories through our survey which is unsurprising given the breadth of anti-social behaviour. Of great concern, however, are two very similar stories we have read about stalking and the lack of support available to victims. One report comes from Birmingham, the other from Bristol. Both involve more than a decade of stalking. Both remain unresolved. According to ‘Elaine’ in Bristol, even her local Victim Support says there is no practical support available because Elaine still owns her house and is not a victim of domestic abuse.

The new Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2014 does not make this distinction and an owner-occupier should be just as entitled to support and assistance if suffering ASB as a Housing Association or Council tenant. Elaine speaks of local agencies just not wanting to know about stalking/harassment. She says they keep her running rings from one ‘helping’ agency to another and even accuses them of bullying and character assassination when trying to honestly report offences. “Nightmare doesn’t even begin to describe it,” she says. “Life is just not worth living anymore, everything has been taken away from me.”

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She mentions how knowledgeable the National Stalking Helpline is but that they cannot do anything practically but “there very soon comes a time in stalking/harassment crime when SOMEONE has to do SOMETHING PRACTICAL to intervene. Only they don’t. ” With the similar case in Birmingham, we advised the victim to activate the Community Trigger. Unfortunately she was simply told ‘all procedures had been followed’ and was not invited to give her side of the story. Maybe all procedures had been followed, but if she is still a victim of stalking after 14 years, more surely needs to be done!

The Community Trigger is designed to empower victims to insist on a case review. The heart behind it is that victims will get respite from ASB. We sense this is true in only a small minority of cases. However, it is the tool that is available to victims and as such the course of action we would recommend to Elaine. Activate her local Community Trigger and push Victim Support to help give her a voice in the ensuing case review. If rejected and yet she is still being stalked, appeal the decision with her local Police and Crime Commissioner. We may be doubtful about how useful these tools are, but the more people who attempt to get results with them, the more data we have to show their success or where they need improving.

Fiona Pilkington

Police failed to investigate her 33 complaints of harassment. Such failings contributed to her death when she gave up on getting help and killed herself and her 18 year old disabled daughter by setting their car on fire. With reference to Fiona Pilkington, Leicestershire

Fiona Pilkington and daughter Francecca

Fiona Pilkington and daughter Francecca

Fiona Pilkington from Leicester killed herself and her 18 year old disabled daughter Francecca in 2007 after Leicester Police failed to investigate her 33 complaints to them about harassment. Her daughter, who had developmental delay, was the target of a group of yobs, some as young as ten. The 38-year-old also complained to the police, council and her MP in a bid to stop nearly a decade of abuse of her mentally disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick,18, and dyslexic son Anthony. The group of youths, some as young as ten, threw stones and eggs at her home in Barwell, Leicestershire, urinated on a wall, invaded the garden and pushed fireworks through the letter box. Anthony was beaten up in the street and locked in a shed at knifepoint.

The final call to police came on the day of Miss Pilkington’s death in October 2007, when she was told to ‘ignore’ girls trampling over her hedge and mocking Francecca. The police felt she was over-reacting and did not connect the various calls to assess how vulnerable the family was. They felt it was not worth prosecuting for. The jury at the inquest into her death 2 years later ruled that Fiona and her family had been failed by the local councils in the area as well as the police and that those failings had contributed to her death.

The case of Fiona Pilkington is seen in the sector as a turning point in agencies being more responsive to vulnerable victims of anti-social behaviour. However, some areas do a better job than others.

[Source: historic newspaper articles including http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1214393/Police-dismissed-30-pleas-Fiona-Pilkington-killed-disabled-daughter-escape-yobs.html , http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-13504618]

Effective Petition

“We have suffered 12 months of harassment and distress because of the behaviour of young people on this park” Matthew Williams, Wolverhampton

Residents living on the Duke Park Estate in Bilston presented a petition with 85 signatures to Wolverhampton City Council asking for a local play area to be removed after 12 months of harassment and distress since it was installed.. The council and police have taken notice of the strength of feeling against the playground. They do not want to close it, but rather address the anti-social behaviour. They suggested a 12 month probation period to tackle the problems – but again, the residents made their voices heard. After hearing the extent of residents’ distress, the authorities reduced the probation period to just six months.

Matthew Williams, who lives on the estate, handed in the petition before outlining it to council bosses. He said: “We have suffered 12 months of harassment and distress because of the behaviour of young people on this park. “They are drinking, shouting, setting fire to vehicles, drawing pornographic imagery on children’s play equipment and riding motor bikes just a few yards away from our homes. “I think calling this anti-social behaviour isn’t an accurate description, it is criminal behaviour. “The park simply has to go, there was no trouble there before and since it has been built we have had nothing but trouble.”   So residents have been heard to a point, and by the end of 6 months the problems should have been stopped and the play area available to young children, or it will need to be closed down as residents hope.

[Source: http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2015/04/29/wolverhampton-playground-plagued-by-crime-given-six-months-for-trouble-to-be-irradicated/]