We talk a lot about the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick; how their legacy informed the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and as a cautionary tale to practitioners. But have we really understood the lessons from the Pilkington tragedy and how to apply them in 2020?
‘I am sick of hearing about Fiona Pilkington’. This was a comment I overhead a practitioner mutter during a training session on safeguarding. I was stunned and appalled by the comment. But when I thought about it more, I realised an unintended consequence of the Pilkington case, as a case study for practitioners, is that it represents a big stick: if you fail in your duties you could be the focus of a serious case review. I wonder if a combination of the Pilkington name, the shame it brought on all those involved and the threat of professional disgrace has created a toxic combination of Pilkington malaise; a sense that if we don’t cover our back, we could be compelled to attend the Coroner’s Court and lose our jobs. If that is the case, it signals a culture of working to preserve reputation rather than in the best interests of victims. By virtue, the lessons we should have learnt are being obscured by a fear that is motivating our interactions with victims to mitigate against reputational damage rather than to find resolution for victims of anti-social behaviour.
It is easy to see how the legacy of austerity, an increase in anti-social behaviour and the inter-dependency on other agencies to do their part, often reluctantly, means practitioners are finding it difficult to manage their caseload, let alone really look and understand how anti-social behaviour is affecting victims.
Last week I visited the street where Fiona Pilkington lived with her family. I made this visit with practitioner eyes; expecting to see the tell-tale signs of deprivation, social exclusion and the imprint of anti-social residents; graffiti, neglected gardens, rubbish and abandoned vehicles. What I found took me by surprise, because Bardon Road is a nice street. It looks and feels nice. It appeared to me that the potential of this street has been unlocked; residents are investing in their homes and making improvements to them. It was difficult to reconcile what I saw and what I know about what happened there 13 years ago.
The visit to Bardon Road was a valuable learning opportunity. It reminded me that managing anti-social behaviour is never what you expect it to be. We naturally form judgements and sometimes these are arbitrary. I considered how many practitioners assumed Fiona Pilkington lived in a local authority property when in fact she owned her own home? I could see how that dimension alone could have influenced how her case was approached by practitioners.
After my visit to Bardon Road, I spoke with victims who have contacted ASB Help or the Victim’s Commissioner for advice because they feel agencies are not helping them to bring an end to the anti-social behaviour they are experiencing. When I listened to the victim’s accounts, I heard the echoes of the Fiona Pilkington serious case review. Multiple calls to the Police, different officers attending, the occasional verbal or harassment warning to the perpetrator, letters to MP’s and that all-encompassing despair felt by victims and their family members daily.
In the cases I have heard, just in the last two weeks, I question if any lessons have been learnt from the Pilkington tragedy. In every case I listened to, I could identify multiple interventions that either the Police, Local Authority or Landlord could utilise from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. But none of these interventions have even been discussed and the only consistent theme is the issuing of a verbal or harassment warning, just as in the case of Fiona Pilkington. And is this intervention designed to help the victim or to enable the practitioner to evidence they have made a positive intervention? Are they just covering their backs? Or are these practitioners encountering a professional despair? Working in a system that is broken, resource deprived and set in its ways of viewing anti-social behaviour as a secondary issue to crime? If the Pilkington case should tell us anything, it is that the harm caused by anti-social behaviour is real and it destroys lives, like any crime has the potential to do.
How can we apply the legacy of the Pilkington case in managing anti-social behaviour today?
- The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gave practitioners tools that are not being used to full effect. We must remember these tools came into existence because they were identified as necessary in part because of the Pilkington case. Our work with Police Forces and Local Authorities shows us there is a reluctance to use civil powers to manage anti-social behaviour for multiple reasons; a criminal law mindset, the costs associated with legal action, the potential for reputational damage should a legal intervention be challenged, a reluctance to work collaboratively with other agencies to share the cost and risk of using the tools available. WE MUST EMBRACE THE TOOLKIT WE HAVE.
- Anti-Social Behaviour is about understanding and managing the many dimensions of human behaviour which has been influenced by a multitude of factors including trauma, dependency and mental health concerns. To find a solution to most cases, we must work creatively and collaboratively. This means embarking on a cultural shift that enables practitioners to work holistically and take risks. How many Police Forces have even applied for a Part 1 Civil Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction?
- If you truly want to put victims first, practitioners must be prepared to challenge the consensus. Most practitioners want to do the right thing for the victim, and they come unstuck because partner agencies are unwilling to work collaboratively. In these cases, practitioners can advise victims to invoke the Community Trigger to request a review of their case or A PRACTITIONER CAN INVOKE THE COMMUNITY TRIGGER ON BEHALF OF THE VICTIM.
- Organisations should embrace the benefits of the Community Trigger rather than view it as a bad thing. The process is not about apportioning blame. It is about working with every stakeholder to find a resolution for the victim and mitigate against an escalation. IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PERFORM YOUR MORAL AND LEGAL DUTY WITHIN YOUR COMMUNITY.
- A vital lesson from the Pilkington case is that we must make it easy for victims to be heard. We should all bear the responsibility of showing victims that they have the right to be heard and the Community Trigger is their statutory right to request that. Crucially, we must not treat each incident in isolation and fail to appreciate the cumulative impact on the victim. This was highlighted in the Pilkington serious case review but my interaction with victims recently shows a reluctance to join the dots.
- All agencies should be proactive in establishing a pathway to support victims from the outset of their complaints about anti-social behaviour. The Pilkington case review shows us that determining a victim’s vulnerability cannot be adduced correctly from a five-minute visit to an address and based on the persons appearance and responses during that short interaction. Victims must be afforded the time and opportunity to speak with someone supportively about how the anti-social behaviour is affecting them and their family.
- We must be embedded in our communities and foster a spirit of vigilance so that residents can speak on behalf of victims and be listened to. My recent visit to Bardon Road shows how easy it is to form an incorrect opinion based on what a place looks like. We know from the serious case review that officers deployed resources to a different area because the anti-social behaviour on Bardon Road appeared insignificant compared to other streets where the traditional tell tales signs were unavoidable. Anti-social behaviour is nuanced and arguably more so today with the emergence of sophisticated organised crime groups. We must all be prepared to scratch the surface, ask questions, be present on a street and work with partners to gather and share intelligence. Only that way can an objective assessment of a case be made, and the victims be seen and heard.
There will be new practitioners entering the work-place in 2020 who have never heard the name Fiona Pilkington. There will be experienced practitioners who hear the name Fiona Pilkington and give a sigh because they have caught the Pilkington malaise. WE MUST NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. We all have a responsibility to learn the lessons and consolidate them by applying them to anti-social behaviour trends in 2020.
You can read the serious case review here
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Rebecca H Brown is the incumbent CEO of ASB Help which champions for the voice of victims of anti-social behaviour to be heard.