Mrs Angry has always had a keen interest in community issues, and is always ready to do her bit when it comes to sitting on committees and panels and all that stuff. Hence the ironic fact that she is a member of her local Safer Neighbourhood Police panel, invited to join a few years ago after a spot of bother with late night vandalism in her street (not by Mrs Angry, you understand, although she is thinking about taking it up as a form of civil protest, if all else fails).
Antisocial behaviour is the responsibility of both the local authority and the Safer Neighbourhood teams: in theory they are supposed to work closely together, as are the Chief Executive and the police Borough Commander, to tackle the problem, and the SN teams devote a significant amount of their time to this issue. All partnerships are doomed to fail, however, if one side does not pull its weight, and what seems to be happening in Barnet is that the administration is more interested on making budget cuts than in properly addressing their responsibilities in this area. The police, for example, are not responsible for handling the ASBO proceedings that were promised for so long to us: that was supposed to be managed by the council. Supposed to be. The vacuum caused by such a low level of support from the local authority puts an added burden on the police service at a time when they have so many other urgent and serious local issues to contend with.
Our local SNT are all nice guys, very sympathetic: they have all spent a lot of time sitting on the Angry family's sofas and listening to our tedious tales of woe. (So much time, in fact, that the normally shy and retiring Angry cat now greets them like one of the family when they come round ...) Trouble is, Safer Neighbourhood Teams are not a full time service. So what happens when there is another incident of ASB and the local SNT is not on duty? Who can you call on? What happens when the local authority is unable or unwilling to get the grips with the situation?
Barnet used to have an out of hours emergency service which was there, every night, to report such nuisances as ASB, or noise problems - all night parties, bonfires etc. As we know, our Tory administration quietly cut this service down to weekend nights only, which leaves you on your own during the weeknights, thank you very much, and in a long queue at the weekend.
This only leaves the option of calling the non emergency police line. As has been highlighted in recent reports, there is currently no way in which a police operator receiving a call from someone experiencing ASB can relate it to the context of a long running problem, and, seen in isolation, such incidents might appear trivial and of a low priority. So you will more than likely be left without assistance, or with attendance many hours after the event. Not only does this make you vulnerable to the continuing harassment and distress of the ASB, you will not have the benefit of getting the incidents officially witnessed, and you will be told that there is a lack of evidence on which to take legal proceedings.
Even if police do attend an incident, there may well not be any consequences for the perpetrators of the trouble.
Last summer, in the midst of all our troubles with our neighbours, my daughter and I were, like so many other people, struck down with a nasty dose of swine flu. For me this was made more of an ordeal than it should have been because for weeks previously, any attempt to get to sleep was inevitably interrupted by the noise from a group of yobs in the bedroom next door, yelling, fighting, drinking smoking weed and generally acting like, well, like yobs. It was so bad that at one point I actually hoped I would get some sort of complications serious enough to get me admitted to hospital, just to get away from the eternal racket, and get a good night's sleep - just one good night's sleep ...
After about ten days, I felt well enough to get up and stagger downstairs, to join my daughter who was lying weakly on the sofa like a Victorian invalid. After a while, our attention was drawn by noises outside. Looking out, we saw that one of the many hoodies who hang about the house was standing outside on the pavement smoking dope and acting like the idiot he undoubtedly is. He stood there for about an hour, soon joined by Travis Smith, who was evidently trying to impress the older youth, himself by now so uninhibited he was moved to perform an excruciating rap routine for the benefit of bemused passers by. He then persuaded Travis that it would be really, really funny if he ran into the traffic, stood in front of cars and shouted obscenities at the drivers. Cars would screech to a halt, narrowly avoiding collision, and Travis would run off to the great amusement of them both. Travis, of course, has ADHD, and therefore cannot be held accountable for anything he does, as his mother never eases to remind everyone. The happy pair then began to harass women who were passing by - those who hadn't taken one look at what was going on and decided to cross the road ... 'Look at the size of your fuckin' arse!' 'You are one fuckin' ugly bitch!'
Ok, time to ring the local police. No answer. Let's try the non emergency number. A rather tetchy operator couldn't see the problem. I pointed out that actually it might not seem so bad to her, but it was another incident in a long running case. She said it was a very low priority, but would pass the information on. Nothing happened, of course.
After a while, we looked out of the window again to see what was happening.
I froze in horror.
Travis Smith stood about four feet away from our window, his hood pulled over his head, his arm raised, holding an eight inch bladed kitchen knife, acting out a stabbing: attacking a plastic box, jabbing the knife in violently and repeatedly, completely lost in his imaginary assault. I went straight to the phone and dialled 999 this time. The mention of a knife did the trick, and within a couple of minutes about four patrol cars screeched to a halt outside, a number of police officers jumped out, got hold of him, put his arm behind his back as they frisked him.'Wankers', he yelled in their faces, 'Wankers!'
They shoved him in the back of one of the cars, and then one of the police officers came up my front path.
'You the lady who called?' he asked, looking me up and down, noticing I was still in my rather slutty dressing gown so late in the day. I felt I had to explain that I had swine flu, and in fact was still in quarantine.
'Swine flu? Oh? Really?' he said, backing away rapidly, a look of mounting panic on his face. 'Well, not to worry, no need to make a statement or anything ... '
('And did you notice, Mummy,' said my daughter later, 'He was wiping his hands on his trousers in case you'd given him the lurgies ...' We thought we spotted this policeman recently on a 'Cops with Cameras' programme filmed locally, looking hard and mean. Well, mean, anyway ... huh. Wished I'd sneezed all over him.)
'Oh but, hold on ... are you just leaving it like that? Hasn't he committed an offence?'
'Well, you know ... it's a fine line, isn't it, Madam?'
'Fine line? What's a fine line? He had a knife: he was using it - I was scared, really scared ...'
'Yes, but - (he was half way to his patrol car by now, trying to remember where he had put the antibacterial hand gel) - he was on his own property, after all ...'
'But hold on, you're not leaving him on his own, are you? He's got ADHD, you know ... learning difficulties ... '
'It's ok, there's a 22 year old male in the house with him ...'
'Yes - he's the one who is stoned and has been getting him to run into traffic and shout obscenities at drivers and -'
And he was gone.
A few minutes later, Travis and the yob came back out of the house to hang out again. This time Travis was sawaggering, wearing cool shades, talking importantly into a mobile, and sucking on the end of a joint.
You might think that as the yob had obviously given the joint to the younger boy, he was guilty of supplying cannabis to a minor, but no, apparently not.
One day soon after, one of the the local community police officers, now gone, as many do, into the police force proper, sat in our living room listening politely to our latest concerns about the Smith household and their behaviour. He had just suggested that, as the family had been relatively quiet for a few days, he should go next door and warmly congratulate them on this momentous achievement, 'as a positive way of moving forward'. A red mist was forming in front of my eyes as I stared at him in disbelief, thinking how I badly wanted to rearrange his perfectly ironed community policeman's uniform - and not in a good way - and shout OVER MY DEAD BODY in his innocent young face. But I didn't. I couldn't. That would be unacceptable, wouldn't it?
One of the amusing ironies of dealing with the police is that if you have to report anything to them by email, you must choose your words very carefully. If you use any rude words, your email will be instantly returned, with a politically correct message about offensive language, by the Met's mail marshall, who is obviously a very prudish Sunday school teacher who blushes easily, and needs to get out more. It is ok for Tracey Smith to shout 'Wot you lookin' at you fucking cow', at me - not an offence, apparently; also she can refer to me as 'that C*NT' next door' at the top of her voice, with no consequences, but if I report either of these incidents verbatim, such words are so horrific that our genteel police officers might pass out on reading them. Hmmm.
Now why is it that there are such different expectations in behaviour from two sets of people on either side of one wall?
Can you imagine what would happen if I, an allegedly respectable middle aged, middle class woman, stood outside the house smoking skunk all morning, in between running into the traffic, trying to cause an accident, shouting insults at passers by, and then stood in my front garden with a huge knife pretending to stab someone? Would I not be arrested and whisked off to a police station, or possibly even sectioned under the mental health act? If I gave a joint to a teenage aquaintance, would I not be held accountable? Er, I think so, don't you?
It seems that there are two different standards of behaviour shown by the authorities - one for people like us, one for people like them, a cultural expectation that they will break the law, and we must not.
I have had to ask myself, at times, why I have bothered to obey the law all my life, and expected my children to do the same, asking them to respect authority and the well being of others, telling them that drug use is wrong, and so is violence. For the last fifteen months of their lives they have watched the Smiths show nothing but contempt for all of these rules and what happens? Nothing. What sort of message does that give them?
As for me, one fo the few things stopping me from belatedly starting a life of petty crime and socially irresponsible behaviour is that nearly every damn police officer in the borough has visited our house in the last year or so, and my face would be too well known to get away with it ...
Ok. We had a tip off on Thursday that, at last, the Smiths might be moved on this weekend. Of course no one at Barnet has bothered to inform us what if anything is happening, and if you are reading this at NLBP, what has happened to the promised weekly updates?
After the initial euphoria of thinking we might be free of this family from hell at last, reality has hit home again: there have been absolutely no signs of any move, unfortunately. In fact, on Saturday night, whilst trying to watch Dr Who save the world from a giant eyeball and razor toothed snakes, we had the added distraction of worrying about members of the Smith family, (including the 17 year old served with a notice last week in relation to harassment of us), acting out a shoot out in front of our house with replica type water pistols (and no water) and lots of derisory laughter and looks towards us to see if we had noticed. We had. The little darlings.
Someone take them away. Please.