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.