What is antisocial behaviour?
From a legal point of view, according to the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, this is defined by:
"Acting in a manner that caused, or was likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household (of the defendant)" ...
To a certain extent, therefore, the perception of what constitutes ASB might be said to be a subjective one, as what causes distress to one individual might seem acceptable to another. And seen in isolation, many of the incidents which amount to ASB may seem relatively trivial, hence the difficulty at times in getting police and other agencies to respond quickly and effectively to what theoretically is a minor misdeameanour. The important thing to realise is the cumulative effect of a series of such incidents, and the devastating impact that this can have on victims.
Unless you have the misfortune to experience personally a situation like ours, you probably imagine that antisocial behaviour takes place in a world far away from you, on a council estate, a city centre late at night; places you never go to and never think about. At least, if I am honest, that is probably a fair representation of my own attitude before all this began, at the beginning of 2009.
Since then, our family life has been turned upside down. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say it has been totally violated by the continual intrusion of the neighbouring household's violent, reckless, and utterly dysfunctional lifestyle: perpetual domestic conflict, open drug abuse, drunkeness, intimidation and a complete disregard for the effect that their behaviour has on anyone else.
Our children have been continually exposed to the most appalling behaviour and constant obscene language, by which I don't just mean swearing - I mean foul, abusive language used by the neighbouring household as a weapon, an expression of violence within their own family. Obscenities used as abuse, as a perverse form of communication, as punctuation, verb, adjective and noun; used casually or deliberately, the constant use of violent language in every possible context expressing a view of the world as one of utter contempt, alienation and emotional disassociation.
As well as the vile language, our children have had to listen to endless arguments, fights, the frrequent sound of a mother 'whacking' her sons, or threatening to. They have heard a woman apparently attempting to kill her partner, watched a hoodie standing in front of the window brandishing an eight inch kitchen knife, acting out a stabbing, seen yobs jumping into our front of our home making obscene gestures at us, been woken up night after night by the sound of yelling, swearing, fighting, mucking around, one, two, three in the morning, anytime.
Our children have had to try to study for GCSEs in a house where almost no room is safe from this constant racket, as well as deal with the immense anxiety they feel after living for so long next to such a frightening household. Their schools have had to be informed about the 'problem' and they in turn have had to inform the exam boards in case of the detrimental effect on their performance.
On the plus side, their education has been unexpectedly broadened as a result of living next to this family, their numerous lodgers, asssociates and casual callers, and given them an expert knowledge of drug abuse: apart from smoking weed they now know how to use a bong, snort coke and so on. Is there a parent who wouldn't be grateful for that extracurricular experience?
The effect of living like this on my husband and myself has had, not surprisingly, a deep impact on us both. I have had to have medication and counselling for stress, my normally robustly healthy husband, after months of struggling to go to work on little sleep after a night of continual noise and disruption, ended up in hospital with a chest pains and then pneumonia: me, I have now spent four months sleeping on an Ikea camp bed in the kitchen, which is the only room on the house where I know I can sleep without being woken up by noise from next door.
This sort of behaviour has been going on for a year and three months now.
Apart from the disruption, day and night - the house, due to its multiple occupancy, is never empty - we have been sworn at, spat at, laughed at, had rubbish thrown in our garden, and dumped in our wheelie bins, continually intimidated by the large numbers of yobs who attend the property. We have lost count of the numbers of times the police have been called to attend some incident or other, or sat in our front room listening to us pouring our yet another tale of grief as a result of the never ending situation.
Because of course we have, since the very beginning, done all the things you are supposed to do: involve the police and the local authority. We have never retaliated in anyway, despite severe and constant provocation. We have kept, as instructed, endless incident diaries - more than a dozen volumes worth. I weighed them recently: nearly a couple of kilos worth of misery for our family. We were given them by the police, and they were theoretically for the use of Barnet Council's officers when legal proceedings would start. Ha.
Where has doing as we were told for so long got us? Bloody nowhere. Despite all promises, we are still here, they are still there. Why has their behaviour been tolerated by the authorities, after months of being told that ASBO proceedings were inevitable?
Incredibly, and in stark contrast to all well run local authorities, Barnet Council does not have any antisocial behaviour officers. It used to have one, but guess what, despite the growing awareness of the problem of ASB and the need to get tough with it they decided to delete the post last year. Barnet's Tory administration, you see, are not exactly on message with David Cameron's latest worries about 'Broken Britain'. They are obviously still catching up with his earlier and much appreciated 'Hug a Hoodie' idea. Instead of an ASB officer, there is a PIT, a small team responsible for every little irritating local problem from abandoned cars to dog crap. Oh and ASB, when time allows.
So you can imagine, perhaps, how we were left in this mess for so long, and when we began to kick up a fuss about lack of action, a new thought was put to us. The household which was causing all this trouble might be better served if, instead of being punished, they were given 'support for their needs'! Of course, our needs are irrelevant, because we are middle class and expected to put up with this crap and behave ourselves, and we do. What a mistake that was.