Friday 30 April 2010

I Predict a Riot

Police were called to Hendon Town Hall this morning to deal with an ugly mob of unruly, middle-aged trouble makers fighting amongst themselves and threatening to 'form another Tory administration'.

A spokesman said: 'In Broken Barnet we're lucky to have a very low amount of anti-social behaviour, but where this does occur, the council will work closely with the police to stamp it out. Provided it does not cost us any money, or happen during the week, or at weekends, or Bank Holidays, or where common people live who might vote Labour.'

As the troublesome yobs were led away, they defiantly chanted: 'easy, easy, easyBarnet' and vowed to return to the Town Hall on May 6th.

Local resident Mrs Angry commented: 'Lock 'em up, and throw away the key.'

Thursday 29 April 2010

Sweet Smell of Success No 2

Guess what.

I never watch horror films because I hate that stuff at the end when the thing you think is dead comes back to life again.

Tuesday night we were assured that the Smiths were gone: we had watched them move all their stuff, with the help of some of their yob mates, who must have found the experience of a hard afternoon's work something of a novel experience.

The local police wandered past and offered their 'congratulations' on the move, which Tracey Smith was obviously touched by (and no, I am not being sarcastic) and cackled 'Oh yeah, and fanks for all yer help!' as they left, as Mrs Angry clenched her fist from behind her window. Mrs Smith sees her move to a new apartment - to an estate in the borough which grown policemen fear to enter without someone holding their hand - as an exciting prospect, apparently. No doubt in their belated haste in trying to move the Smiths Barnet have pushed them in front of some poor family's place on the years' long housing list and rewarded their disgusting behaviour with a nicely refurbished flat. Well, her sons and their pals will have easier access to drugs and will find life generally more to their taste. Their new neighbours may have different views on their arrival.

That night we cracked open the champagne.

The next morning, as I had promised my daughter, we stuck up some bunting in the window as a signal to our friends that we had been liberated at last. Can you blame us, after the last sixteen months?

To my horror, the Smiths returned to the house. Not once, but several times. I hid in the back of the house, my heart thumping. In the early evening we heard the sound of digging. Mr Angry and I looked out and noticed one of the yobs who helped them over their furniture furtively digging at the soil and looking on the ground for something. Odd, we thought.

In the middle of the night, around one o'clock, I woke up suddenly. I could hear the sound of somone quietly letting themselves in next door, and moving in the house. This was alarming as the Smiths were allegedly safely installed in their new flat, and anyway, in all the time they has lived next door they had never once entered or exited the property quietly. I went to the bathroom and noticed a light was on. I lay in bed wondering if one of the yobs who were associates the house had a copy of the key, or was nicking stuff (they all seemed to be prone from stealing from each other) or worse, was about to put a firework through our letter box. Nothing much further seemed to happen, and eventually I fell asleep.

This morning we got up, Mr Angry and the kids went to leave for work and school, and on opening the front door found someone had emptied a bucket load of dirt all over our door step. Dirt, soil, dozens of cigarette butts, bits of rubbish. I can't tell you how that feels, after all the crap we have had to put up with: maybe it seems unimportant but somehow it just underlines to us how these low life shits just get away with everything.

Well, of course we rang the police - you reading this Big Ears? They said oh. Was it a lot of stuff? How much would you say? I had to go out in my night attire, stand on the doorstep, and assess the amount scientifically: was it a skip's worth? No. Was it more than two teaspoons? Yes. Does that count as harrassment then? Can't come to see it today. OK: I'll keep it for you. Can you at least speak to the Smiths? Yes. Good because otherwise I will be pouring this through the letterbox of next door. Sound of policeman about to say I wouldn't do that if I were you Madam, but not quite daring.

I can see the scene. Policeman arrives at the Smiths new place. Hello, Mrs Smith, just come to see if you are settling in okay. Oh, that's nice! Yeah, s'lovely, thanks. Look, Travis, the nice policeman has come to see you are being a good boy. Say hello! Aahh ... no, Travis, don't spit out of the window ... Policemans asks: now then, did you by any chance lose a bucket of soil and a few fag ends in the middle of the night? Tracey Smith will shake her head in wide eyed innocence: ooh, no officer. That's alright then, I'll leave you to unpack. Yeah, ok, then, - and thanks for all your help!

Give me strength.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Sweet Smell of Success

They are gone.

That was easy, wasn't it - in an easyBarnet sort of way?

Sixteen months, sixty four weeks, 448 days and nights of utter misery.

Two kilos worth of incident diaries. Hundreds of emails, phone calls, letters, meetings with the police, councillors, council officers. Letters in national and local newspapers, letters to MPs and ministers. Letters to schools, and exam boards. Expensive letters to solicitors.

A suspected heart attack, a dose of pneumonia, a course of anti-anxiety medication and counselling.

A complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (watch this space).

Oh: and a blog.

A councillor told me recently that if I had not kicked up all this fuss, there is absolutely no doubt that the Smiths would be staying next door until the end of time, with the blessing of the council. I am sure that is true, and what does that say about Barnet Council, the Conservative run administration that ignores the plight of the tax paying, mortgage paying, law abiding family in favour of a cut price housing scheme that is being used to remove numbers from the longest housing waiting list in the country?

And is it over now? After a U turn by the authority, the Smiths have at last been levered out of here into a special, supervised tenancy in a council property - and how we pity their new neighbours - but unbelievably, despite all that has happened, and the behaviour of the landords of the house next door, we still have had no agreement from Barnet Council that they will not place further tenants in this house and with these landlords. This defies belief, frankly, as I am sure any reasonable person would agree.

And then of course, there is the matter of compensation. We will not rest until we receive a fair settlement from Barnet Council to recognise the distress and anxiety that their actions - and inactions - have caused each member of my family. We note that this week that the Ombudsman has told Barnet to pay compensation to a girl excluded from school and expect compensation to us to be fully reflective of the traumatic effect on our family life over the last year and more.

Is this the end of Mrs Angry? No, not yet. I think it is important to keep the issues we have experienced in the public eye at this interesting time before the election. David Cameron keeps trying to make political profit from the Broken Britain idea, without taking any responsibility for the fact that his own Tory run authorities like Barnet are actually facilitating the increase of ASB by failing to provide resources to deal with the problem. You cannot have an effective management of situations like ours unless you are prepared to invest in the staffing and procedures necessary to do the job. Proposed spending cuts by a Tory government will only make the matters worse. Or does he envisage that in his puerile 'Big Society' idea, we will all take responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour too? Teams of vigilantes, maybe?

I have to thank our family and all our friends for their sympathy and support during this horrible, horrible ordeal.

Grateful thanks too to our long suffering West Finchley Safer Neighbourhood Police, especially Dave, Paul, and Mark.

Thank you to Councillor Jim Tierney for all his sympathy, kindness and efforts on our behalf, also his Labour party colleagues, Ross Houston and Alison Moore.

Oh, and a two fingered salute to Barnet Council and all its works. I really have been staggered by your incompetence, lies, prevarication and dirty tricks.

Thanks to Leader and Conservative councillor Lynne Hillan for never bothering to answer any of our messages. Perhaps you were too ashamed.

Thanks to Deputy Leader and Conservative councillor Andrew Harper for his total lack of sympathy. I suppose you think that this sort of thing could never happen in the cherry blossomed avenues of Hampstead Garden Suburb. You're wrong.

As for former leader and prospective Tory MP Mike Freer: if you dare come canvassing at my door you will find the pointy end of Mrs Angry's shoe aimed in the direction of your horrid little derriere and in case you hadn't guessed, I wouldn't vote for you if you marched me to the ballot box with a gun at my head.

Finally, there is a man at North London Business Park who has been locked in a stationery cupboard for the last few months for trying to do his job. You can let him out now, with our compliments.

Friday 23 April 2010

The Night Mayor of Broken Barnet

Well, well.

It seems that our beloved Mayor, Brian Coleman, is in trouble again, and has been helping the police with their enquiries. Tut Tut. Now then: Mrs Angry is not one to kick a man when he is down, but in Brian's case she is happy to make an exception. Hold on while she just slips into some lovely pointy stillettos. Wait though: he might enjoy that, fond memories of Margaret Thatcher, and all. I'll borrow the daughter's Doc Martens instead. There.

Well, could there be a more fitting Mayor of Broken Barnet than Brian Coleman?

If ever anyone personified all that is wrong with the mutant strain of Conservative politics that has infected our Town Hall, it is surely he. (see earlier blog, The Lunatics Have Taken over the Asylum) Who could attempt to represent this dysfunctional, heartless, self-loving administration better than our Brian?

To be fair, though, we should remind ourselves of his remarkable political achievements, and the immense contribution he has made to the community which he was elected to serve.

... and now let's remember some of the other stuff.

The outrageous amount of our money spent on staggeringly high taxi fares to carry the divine being around his public dinners and engagements.

The obstinate refusal to publish details of his GLA expenses, until forced to by Boris Johnson, having been quoted in the Standard saying such matters were none of the public's business:

The Partingdale Lane fiasco,

The removal of speed humps, (followed by losing his licence for, er, speeding),

Insulting the local Middlesex University as by describing it as 'crap', (followed by, er, an acceptance of an honorary degree from said university),

Taking it upon himself to make lurid 'cottaging' allegations about the late former Tory PM Heath,

Attacking Sir Ian Blair for liking a drink at public events, (only Brian is allowed to indulge himself at these shindigs)

Insulting our Olympic athletes by saying they would have 'blood on their hands'.

Oh, and of course being found guilty of breaking the council's code of conduct for 'failing to treat others with respect' after insulting blogger Roger Tichborne, for which Mike Freer offered him £10,000 of our money for his legal fees. Did we get that back, by the way?

Then we have last year's 'you odious toad' outburst at the GLA in which he exploded at a fellow member for, amongst other crimes, being a grammar school boy. Coleman himself, of course, was a grammar school boy. Rather amusingly, there has for some time previously been a Facebook group dedicated to removing Coleman from office, called 'Mr Toad (aka Brian Coleman) must go'. Another case of Freudian projection, it seems, an interesting pattern of behaviour which our man often exhibits, in almost all the examples listed above.

To me, the most bizarre episode of all was the story reported in the Barnet Press last May describing Coleman's interest in a proposed tourist attraction using exhibits from the Black Museum which he suggested might, in order to 'add spice', display the saucepans Denis Nilson used to dispose of the body parts of his victims. Coleman commented that this would have 'teenage boys queuing around the block'. One would have thought he might realise that any decent person would be revolted by the idea, or that he might just have had some thought for the families of Nilson's victims. Evidently not. What does this tell us about our Mayor, I ask?

Since the story this week about the alleged 'angry' phone call, others have commented that they too have had experience of Mr Coleman's unique telephone manner. Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal that she too has had this memorable treatment. One day she will tell the whole horrible tale, which involved a planning application, a complaint, and an anonymous attempt to smear the complainant's reputation, happily easily proven as utterly baseless, which mysteriously appeared in a newspaper. Nice.

According to reports, the police have now advised Coleman 'over his future conduct'.

Mrs Angry would like to offer Coleman some advice too, although she is not entirely confident that Mr Mayor will want to hear it.

My advice, Brian, is that you remember you are an elected representative, not the dictator of some South American banana republic.

As a local councillor, or member of the GLA, you are supposed to serve the interests of your consituents. You seem to be unaware that this means listening to a broad range of opinions from different individuals and sections of the community, and showing respect for their right to hold such a variety of opinions even when, goodness me, they do not coincide with your own. Being elected to public office should be an honour, and a privilige, a chance to represent, support and protect the interests of the people who have put you in that position: it is not a ticket to a life of self indulgence, an opportunity to hang on the coat tails of, to use that favourite phrase of yours, 'the great and the good', that exclusive club to which, sadly, you will never be admitted.

You claim to be a member of the Methodist Church. Let's see you show some Christian values in your political life. A little more Christian humility, love of one's neighbours, generosity and tolerance might be somewhere to start. Stop resorting to confrontation and force in order to get your way: if you hold such contempt for the opinions and feelings of the public who put you in office, do us all a favour, pal, and stand aside for someone who can do the job properly.

Another blogger has speculated that Coleman's character has been formed by the bullying he allegedly received as a schoolboy, and has suggested that perhaps we should feel sorry for him. Certainly he presents a rather lonely figure at times. He is old enough and intelligent enough to recognise, however, that bullying is unacceptable and a weakness, not a strength. Many children have been subjected to far worse abuse and not repeated the cycle within their own adult lives.

Finally I would ask the voters of Barnet, and indeed of the GLA, what exactly the glaring failure to challenge the embarrassing behaviour of Brian Coleman tells them about the Conservative party leadership and local activists. I have yet to meet a Tory supporter who is prepared to express support for his antics and yet fellow party members are happy to condone his behaviour by refusing to review his position. This is great news for Labour and now the Libdems, of course, so what the heck. It would be nice to think that the voters of Totteridge might like to do the right thing and vote for someone else for a change: who knows, maybe the Clegg factor will have some unforeseen benefits after all.

Mrs Angry will now leave Brian to sit on the naughty step and just think about what he has done wrong, but let us just enjoy once more the great man's words, as quoted in the Standard, when he was showing a little reluctance to disclose his expenses details to the unworthy public:

' ... they are not entitled to drool over our personal lives. I'm not going to help the mad, bad and the sad, the bloggers on the internet. (ha ha) I'm not pandering to mob rule. It undermines democracy to suggest that all MPs, all politicians are the spawn of Beelzebub ...'

It's the forked tongue that gives it away, Brian.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

To have, and have not

Late one night last year, there was a fight between Troy and Travis Smith which spilled out onto the street, and ended up on top of the bonnet of their mother's car. Travis Smith saw us looking out at them and ran in front of our house, sticking his fingers up and yelling FUCK OFF, FUCK FUCK FUCK over and over again. We shut the curtains and tried to pretend he wasn't outside, although he began to bang on our wall to attract our attention. After a while of this I looked out and saw he was sitting on the wall, reaching into our tiny front garden and pulling out the few flowers which were growing. 'Can you please leave my flowers alone, ' I asked. He looked at me perfectly calmly. 'They're not your flowers, ' he replied, 'They're the government's.'

I looked at him. He was quite serious. He knew somehow that his family's lifestyle - income, housing, everything - was entirely provided by some sort of remote, abstract authority, and that was how he imagined it was for everyone. 'Er, no, ' I told him, 'Actually, I grew those flowers myself ...' He looked at me blankly. I stared back at him over a gulf much wider than the metre and a bit of concrete between me and the wall.

You know, I have to admit that, despite the horror of living next door to the Smiths and their associates, there is a very funny side to all of this. And if it was happening to someone else I would be the first person to laugh.

Look at Mrs Angry, sitting primly on the sofa watching Newsnight, tutting because she is having trouble hearing Jeremy Paxman grill some weasel worded politician mouthing off about the breakdown of society, while inches away, on the other side, an enraged, tattooed, toothless Tracey Smith is threatening her son with another 'whack' and screaming obscenities at him.

A lot of the time, these days, I seem to be stomping about in an advanced state of bourgeois outrage, like Audrey from the Good Life finding herself knee deep in Tom and Barbara's pigshit, or God help me, on full time net curtain twitching alert rather like, as my impertinent son once dared to suggest, Hyacinth Bucket, condemned to eternal damnation in a never ending episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show. And, let's be honest, it is funny.

This same son, it should be noted, used to hold political views that were somewhat to the left of Robespierre, and in fact at one time, when he was younger, seriously proposed to me that the entire Royal family should be publicly executed in Trafalgar Square, for the good of the country. An idea for Boris and the fourth plinth, I suppose. Since living next door to the Smiths, however, he has moved almost full circle and become an expert ranter on the subject of benefit scroungers and yob mentality.

One day, after one of these outbursts, to save him from a lifetime of shame as a Daily Mail reader, I sat and lectured him on the necessity of the Welfare State. I reminded him about my mother, who grew up in a world of abject poverty, despite her father's backbreaking working life of forty years down a coal mine, with never a day's sick pay, or compensation for one of the three serious injuries he had. In the 1930s, my mother's young brother and sister died within days of each other from diptheria, in an epidemic that swept through the slum terraced back streets where they lived. There was no affordable medical treatment for them, no 'hand outs', no benefits, no unemployment money: you worked, or you starved. Sometimes you worked and you nearly starved anyway. I pointed out how the Welfare system was created to prevent such social injustice. He wasn't entirely convinced, though, perhaps because he could sense the lack of conviction creeping into my wet liberal arguments.

And anyway, how do you explain the journey from the terrible poverty of those days to the present day, benefit dependent culture of the Smiths? They are not poor, in the sense of my mother's family: they have a home provided for them, and financial support, they are given access to decent schools, they have tvs, games consoles, alcohol, recreational drugs and holidays, and there is no question as to whether or not they should be entitled to this level of 'support'. Perhaps it is a mark of a civilised society that we do not question their entitlement. If the Smiths had not made our lives hell this last year and more, I probably would have thought so, anyway. But now I just think they have taken the Welfare State by the neck and screwed it, and us, for everything they can get.

Mrs Smith has played the welfare system astutely; brilliantly, hats off to her. Having a son labelled as having ADHD has helped enormously, of course. On the only occasion Mr Angry spoke to her, in the early days of the tenancy, after we were kept awake all night - literally -for several nights in a row by her oldest son and his friends, a gang of drunken, foul mouthed yobs in the bedroom next door, she said in a tragic tone of voice 'yeah, ya see, my boy Travis, he can't help it, he's got ADHD ...' 'Oh dear,' said Mr Angry, 'that's a shame, but it isn't Travis that makes all the noise, is it? It's your other son.' This was a waste of time, as Tracey Smith has learnt to use Travis as an excuse for everything, and this enables her to play the hard done by, unemployed, 'vulnerable' single mother, struggling to cope with her 'boisterous' sons. Not anti-social, you understand, normal boys who are a bit lively ... Thinking again about my mother's father, at the age these 'boisterous' youths and their friends are now, he was already living in the hell of the trenches of the First World War, and indeed, while they spend most of their days and nights fooling about on their Playstations, young guys their age are losing their lives, on their behalf, in Afghanistan.

Something has gone badly wrong somewhere, but I'm not sure where. We really have reverted to the state Disraeli once identified, one of 'Two Nations' :

'between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different time zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws ...'

Margaret Thatcher notoriously once claimed that there was no such thing as society. David Cameron, in his bid to find an electable face for a party tainted with her perceived lack of humanity, has tried the cringe making 'hug a hoody' tactic before discovering 'Broken Britain' and seeking to exploit voters' fears of social breakdown. But who broke Britain? When did it start? Yes, I'm looking at you now, Margaret.

In the twenty first century we are struggling to be a functional multicultural society, yet the real divisions, I would argue, lie not in culture or ethnicity so much as in education, attitude and employment. Even within the Tory party there is still a conflcit, a difference of class: stand Posh Boy and George Osborne next to Brian Coleman and Mike Freer, compare and contrast. It's like looking at the difference between a Regency terrace and a concrete, Brutalist car park from the 1960s. What do all Tories have in common, then? A feeling that the individual's rights take precedence over social responsibilities, in other words, a feeling that what they want is what they should have, regardless of others. Yob mentality is no different. It suits the Tories to keep the new poor in their place with the provision of benefits, shoved into any old accommodation, left with the worst state schools, the least access to good medical care. Out of sight, out of mind. The Victorians believed that the lowest classes were the undeserving poor and that it was all somehow their fault. Modern day Tories don't care if they deserve it or not: in their world they are irrelevant. Broken Britain, Broken Barnet: we get the society we deserve. If you don't like the sound of it, think before you vote the architects of easyBarnet and Futureshape into power, either nationally or locally.

Friday 16 April 2010

Trouble in Paradise

Good news, fellow citizens! Mrs Angry has got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

No need to panic after all.

I have just read in the online Hendon and Finchley Times that according to our council yesterday 'In Barnet we're lucky to have a very low amount of antisocial behaviour. But where this does occur, the council will work closely with the police to stamp it out ...'

Barnet, you see, for some reason, (nothing to do with Mrs Angry's war of attrition, of course) felt moved to express that it is 'delighted' by the sentencing this week of members of a gang who have been caught sticking graffiti on various sites and have now received ASBOs.

How interesting it is that walls are considered more important, and more in need of protecting, than the wellbeing of my family. That's the true Tory way, I suppose, though: property being of more value than human beings. And of course, cleaning up graffitti has hit them where it really hurts, in the wallet.

Mrs Angry is thrilled for the council, none the less. Now they can add these new ASBOs to the grand total of, er, four which, when she made an FOI request in January, she was informed was the entire number the ASBOs obtained by Barnet in the current financial year. Yes: four.

Mrs Angry has been asked if she has 'sexed up' the content. I'm not entirely sure if that means in an Alistair Campbell/dodgy dossier/David Kelly dead in the woods sort of way, or more Belle de Jour style (if only) but let me lower the tone anyway, and talk about sex in Sunderland. Yes, I know. It does happen, and Mrs Angry, being the descendant of six generations of Durham miners, (one of the many reasons of my deep loathing for Margaret Thatcher, and the bottle of champers I keep in my fridge for the day of her demise) wouldn't be here otherwise. Anyway: you are allowed to have sex in Sunderland, but very quietly. If you make a noise and embarrass the postman, and an OAP walking a dog, you will find yourself the recipient of an ASBO, as one particularly enthusiastic couple discovered last year. Funny, you might think: sex is a fairly normal activity, even in Barnet. Allegedly. Enjoy yourself too much, however, and you might be in trouble. In Sunderland anyway. But look what you can get away with in this borough: drug abuse, drunkenness, 'whacking' your children', beating up members of your family, yelling obscenities night and day, including directly at your neighbours, jumping in front of their windows making FUCK OFF gestures, wielding knives in front of them, keeping them awake every night for three months, don't worry, you ain't going to be ASBOd. You may be offered support for your needs, is all. Just don't leave your tag on the tube station and post it on Youtube. On the other hand, you can do drugs and stick the photos on Facebook, no one will care.

Do they honestly expect people to believe that we have a very low amount of antisocial behaviour? Do you think that is the opinion of the police in this borough?

We have, as I may have mentioned, a Tory run council, whose members are largely representative of the more affluent areas of Barnet. It is a truth not commonly acknowledged amongst the current administration that in fact we have large areas of social deprivation in this borough. Of course these areas tend to be in Labour held wards and therefore do not really count for much with our Tory chums.

According to the most recent data available, Barnet has significant areas, ie in concentrated pockets, of disadvantage and social deprivation. This is largely driven by 'disadvantage' in housing and crime. Surprisingly, perhaps, out of 354 English local authorities, Barnet ranks number 128 in terms of deprivation. In the years between 2004 and 2007, the trend was that Barnet was becoming more deprived still, and one can only assume that this trend is likely to continue, especially if we return the present administration to power.

Mrs Angry suggests that Lynne Hillan, Brian Coleman, Andrew Harper and their posse, slip a hoody on, hold their noses, and tippytoe on to the mean streets of parts of this borough to see how the other half lives. Maybe they would like to accompany the police on an evening tour of Grahame Park, or Strawberry Vale, Stonegrove, or Spur Road, have a word with the drug dealers, gang members, petty criminals, pimps and street drinkers who plague the lives of the ordinary decent residents of these areas and occupy so much of the time and resources of the police? No? Too down and dirty for you?

When Mrs Angry made a Freedom of Information request earlier this year, she also asked about the number of ASB enquiries the council had received. Last year, ie the year 2008/9, there were a total of 65 enquiries. This financial year, up til the date of the request in January, there were 214, a number apparently increasing almost daily. And this is bearing in mind that most residents probably would not know how to report concerns about ASB to the council, and are not exactly encouraged to do so. At one time, there was going to be a helpline to which such problems could be reported: what happened to that? No doubt it went the same way as the out of hours weekday emergency line, quietly cut, easyBarnet style.

If you watched the debate between party leaders the other night you will have seen David Cameron constantly evading the question about how Tory spending cut plans will effect the provision of vital services. How strange, incidentally, to see the leader of the Conservative party, the party of law and order, not only not supporting the work of the police but picking silly fights over an alleged purchase of one car by one police force, which apparently was an inaccurate story anyway. Forget all the handwringing by Cameron about Broken Britain. In the increasingly unlikely event that he will be the next PM, the spending cuts he will impose will inevitably hit every aspect of public services, including policing. And we already know from examples of Conservative local authorities like Barnet that the Tory way of dealing with the issue of ASB in practice consists of ignoring it and hoping it will all go away.

In the past, of course, this has worked because the people who were largely affected by such disruptive behaviour were the plebs themselves, the unacknowledged underclass who were kept in place in urban ghettoes and no-go estates, and the Tories didn't give a damn, as long as none of them ventured down the leafy streets where they live. This system of apartheid is breaking down, however, as largely due to the brilliant short term kerr-ching effect of selling off council houses, there is now a chronic shortage of social housing and now homeless families on council waiting lists are being housed in residential properties all around the borough. An interesting experiment in social engineering, you might think.

Shirley Porter, anyone?

Thursday 15 April 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

Poor old Mike Freer.

His 'Mike Freer for Finchley and Golders Green' Facebook group page isn't getting any feedback, I noticed yesterday, so to help him out I joined up and left him a warm message of support. After all, as it says,

"Mike is widely respected as someone who 'gets things done', with a keen eye for improving service and value for money in our public services"!

I know that's what we say in our house, we often bless his name and think very kindly of him.

And what an interesting life he has lead. I mean, I knew he was a highly accomplished banker - (liked the blog about dyslexia, Rog, btw) but I am awed to hear he was once listed in the top 1000 Most Influential Londoners! Imagine that! I'm trying ... I'm really trying ... nope, sorry, just can't do it.

When we complained to Barnet Council, Mike, about the nightmare we had been dumped in by a. your authority's housing scheme, and b. your authority's inability to get to grips with the ASB we were being subjected to, someone told us there were many such tenancies with similar problems, and that the Homechoice tenants sent to live next door to us were 'clearly' anti-social. The same person then thought better of it and later dismissed the family's appalling record of domestic violence, drug abuse, obscene language, constant attendance by the police etc etc as 'not to your satisfaction' but that the council were not going to take any legal action ...

You recently mentioned the 'great ignored' and how people like us, the tax paying, law abiding families, will get support from a Tory government. Where were you, then, when we asked you for help last year? I'll tell you where we are now, still in this bloody mess, still paying our taxes and a mortgage on a now worthless house. Cheers Mike.

We thought we had an end in sight recently: after starting this blog miraculously a property was found at last in which to decant our feral neighbours. But uh oh: Barnet have managed to cock that up as well, suddenly remembering 'legal issues'. They claim (retrospectively) that they thought of this brilliant monitored tenancy scheme six months ago - SIX MONTHS - yet they have still not sorted it out.

Voters of Barnet, and Finchley and Golders Green: there are hundreds of families being placed in private properties all round the borough now: they have to be because Barnet has no adequate stock of council owned properties in which to put people. It seems that this is the way in which the vast majority of those on the housing waiting list will now be accommodated in Barnet. Be warned: if tenants move next door to you as a result of such a placement, and they cause trouble, you may face exactly the same problems as us. Barnet has an eviction process for disruptive tenants in council properties, but takes absolutely no responsibility for the actions for those put into private arrangements. Forget about Tory lies about supporting the ordinary, decent family: the bottom line is cost - when Tory policy is intent on cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks, as it is in this borough, you can only expect more of the same sort of misery we have had to put up with.

What's the Tory slogan? A year for change? Damn well hope so in this rotten borough.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Do you want the truth or something beautiful?

Like I said, my instinct is usually right when it comes to detecting the furtive smell of corporate lying. You can be a natural born liar, and lie as easily as breathing, and you may even take a creative satisfaction in it, but if you have to lie as part of your job, inevitably you will give yourself away by your language, or your lack of control over the dishonest things you are undertaking. For example, you might find yourself needing to tell three different lies to three different parties to try to keep them sweet, perhaps to stall further trouble before, oh I don't know, maybe an election or an enquiry of some sort. What you have to hope is that the three different parties to whom you have told three different lies do not discover the extent of the variation of the truth that you have been hiding behind.

And then you have the cock up factor. In a badly run organisation, mistakes are inevitable, but cannot be acknowledged, so these slip ups have to be lied about as well, compounding the layers of dishonesty that are rapidly accumulating ... here in Broken Barnet, the ground is covered in the stuff, and when you've trodden in it, let me tell you, like dogshit on the sole of your shoe, the smell is overpowering.

Monday 12 April 2010

Black Monday

I am losing the plot. But that's hardly surprising.

I have just chased a delivery boy down the street in order to hand back to him the copy of a Tory party promotion - complete with Mike Freer's ghastly grinning face - which he had foolishly stuck through the Angry family letter box. 'Take this back!' I yelled at the poor deluded Young Conservative youth, 'I don't want it and as far as I am concerned you can stick it ...' and here I lost my nerve, 'In the bin where it belongs!' He looked at my enraged face and gulped: 'Oh. Ok then ...'

Perhaps I should have explained to him that I have spent the evening in tears - yet again - due to the latest twist in the nasty cat and mouse game that Barnet Council have been playing with us over the removal of our neighbours from hell.

On April 1st - oh yes, readers, and I fell for it - we had been assured, on the highest authority, that the Smiths were picking up keys to a new property and were at long last being moved out to a monitored tenancy in council accommodation far away from us. We were assured this, in good faith, by a third party, acting on information from the council itself, both last weekend and the weekend just past. Nothing happened, and Mrs Angry's instinct was that something was wrong. Mrs Angry's instinct is usually right.

For around five weeks now, despite guarantees of weekly updates of information from the Council, we have been told absolutely nothing of any developments, despite several requests. We were given a new named senior officer as a point of contact some time ago: she has not bothered to contact us at all, so first thing today we contacted her, expressing our concerns at the lack of information, reminding her of the vulnerable position we are in, and the recent serving of a notice on Travis Smith after the latest incident of harassment. Late in the evening, she sent an abrupt response of 19 words:

'We are progressing the letting of the property and the Smiths will be moving within the next few weeks.'

And that was it.

The only word in that message which holds any credibility is 'we' and possibly 'the'.

I am not sure what progressing means, other than 'we do not want to tell you exactly what is going on as you will not like it', but in Barnet-speak, 'next few weeks' means nothing and anything: sometime never, somewhere over the rainbow, where happy little bluebirds fly, and safely after an election, and hopefully after the Ombudsman has completed their assessment.

Next few weeks: two weeks? Four weeks? Nine weeks? More? Well, what's that after the sixty five weeks we have already lived like this ... I've spent, what, the last twenty weeks unable to sleep in my own bed, - well, actually unable to sleep properly at all for worrying about this shit you have landed us in, so what's a few more, eh? No hurry. Take your time.

The idea of this new tenancy we were told, belatedly in January, had been agreed upon last November. It will be six months soon since this alleged proposal was put forward. Six bloody months. Do they really not understand what it is like, having to go through all this?

I often wonder which is the more traumatic experience - living next door to the dysfunctional, disruptive, foul mouthed and violent Smiths, or having to do constant battle with the incompetence, tortuous game playing, and machinations of Barnet Council. If I was a less resilient character, I might very well have been driven to some desperate act by now. Ok, I started a blog, which is pretty desperate. But there are other forms of action to explore as well, and this, I suppose, is the way to go now.

Saturday 10 April 2010

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum

False alarm ... the Smiths are still there, and we are still here.

On Friday night the Smiths and their friends made such a racket even Mr Angry was considering sleeping downstairs. I really don't know how much longer we can put up with this uncertainty. Are they going or not?

We have heard absolutely nothing from Barnet Council, and this makes me suspect that the attempt to remove the Smiths to alternative accommodation is not going as planned.

Due to technical problems with the sequencing of blogs, I had to delete one so, hey ho, let's repeat the content here:

In this week's Hendon and Finchley Times, Mike Freer, Tory candidate for Finchley and Golders Green consituency and former leader of Barnet Council, is quoted thus:

'We need to ensure the voices of the great ignored are heard again. Those who work hard, pay their taxes and obey the law need to have a Government that supports them.'

Not going to argue with that, Mike. And we are hard working, pay our taxes and obey the law.

So why is it, when you were in charge of Barnet Council, you ignored us when we asked you to sort out the mess your council has landed us in, directly as a result of your administration's inept housing policy, your officers' totally inadequate response to what Barnet had now recognised as a long running and serious case of antisocial behaviour, and what your deputy chief executive has now admitted was your council's cock up of the complaint we were forced to make? Where was the support for us?

They are an odd lot, the Tories in Barnet. Completely out of synch with the sort of image David Cameron would like us to believe is the new face of the party: caring, sharing, the party of 'Compassionate Conservatism'. The Tories in Barnet are a bunch of mavericks, self obsessed individuals pursuing their own agenda rather than uniting in a coherent political force, and peculiarly retrospective in their brand of idealogy, harking back fondly to the good old days of Margaret Thatcher, and the hardline stance she took on spending and on social issues: no such thing as society, remember?

In Barnet for some time now, the mavericks have been in control; the lunatics have been running the asylum, and no one has dared to challenge their authority. Mrs Angry, in her capacity as an amateur psychiatrist, would have to conclude that a study of the policies lately pursued by this administration strongly suggests that there seems to be some sort of collective psychological disorder, one might say displaying an almost sociopathic personality. What is the definition of a sociopath? An individual with ho ho, an antisocial personality disorder, someone unconcerned with the adverse consequences of one's activities, someone with no heart, no conscience, no remorse, only an extreme self regard, a narcissim which sets them apart from the rest of society. I don't think that it is any coincidence that the ordeal we have been through this past year and more has been facilitated by the actions and inactions of this clapped out administration: in fact I think the peculiar tolerance shown to antisocial behaviour is in some weird way a psychological projection of a bunch of individuals who share the same qualities as the perpetrators of ASB, albeit in a more socialized form. The philosophy is the same, whether you call it yob mentality or bang on about the freedom of the individual, it's all about caring about yourself more than anyone else and to hell with the consequences.

The behaviour of certain individual councillors within this administration, their egotism, self indulgence, and disregard for the well being and opinion of others is pretty apparent. But collectively is where the real damage is done: could it be that this sociopathic disregard for the well being of others is responsible for a lack of interest in social issues, in giving support to the less advantaged residents of the borough? The cut price housing policy and the attempts to remove wardens from sheltered accommodation are examples, I would say, of a political stance that has no time for compassion, or empathy, or a sense of duty to the less advantaged members of our society.

Politics, as we know only too well, is now less of a vocation and more of a career choice for a type of particularly hardnosed opportunist. And a spell as a local councillor provides a suitable start for many with larger political ambitions. This means that these administrations, as in Barnet, end up with a collection of politically ambitious but inexperienced members, often with no real interest in, or committment to, the local community, buffeted to a degree by a core of old timers, the councillors who have been entrenched in their party positions since the dawn of time, in some cases clinging on to their positions when, naming no names, they are clearly unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties. Additionally we have the phenomenon of the absentee landlord councillor, who effs off to another country whilst retaining his droit de seigneur (metaphorically speaking) over the people in his ward. In one example in the past year, Mike Freer had not even noticed that one of his councillors was living in Australia. Imagine that! Bit like when he didn't noticed £27 million pounds of our money had gone to live in Iceland, on a one way ticket.

Here's a question: which councillors would you like to send on a one way ticket to somewhere far far away? Post your answers in the ballot box, available for your convenience at all polling stations on the 6th May.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Gimme Shelter

So what happens when you are a Tory run council faced with an ever increasing, record breaking number of people on the housing waiting list, and you decide you have nowhere to put them?

Do you sit down and consider whether or not you are providing enough social and affordable housing? Do you worry about providing safe and decent accommodation for families who are disadvantaged and vulnerable? Or do you take the easyCouncil way and look for the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way of offloading the responsibility of so many tiresome dependents?

Barnet Council approved the use of the house next door to us for a 'vulnerable' family on its housing waiting list, a family identified as such presumably due to the 'behavioural problems' of one of Tracey Smith's sons. Why is it, you may be wondering, that a family identified as vulnerable, and therefore to whom it might reasonably be expected the council has a duty of care, can be so easily be shoved into private accommodation which has not been assessed for any criteria of safety, suitability, cleanliness or decorative order other than a gas safety certificate and an energy certificate?

No visit by a housing officer. No inspection. No health and safety risk assessment - something which might be considered vital for any family, but especially with a vulnerable family including one child with ADHD. No fire safety assessment: no electrical assessment. Imagine the risks in an old or poorly maintained property, the likelihood of dangerous wiring, toxic furnishings, and so on. Barnet leaves the responsibility for assessment of all these factors to the tenants themselves, which is fine if they happen to be qualified electricians, environmental health officers and health and safety inspectors, or can afford to pay for surveys of the properties offered. And is this considered good practice in other boroughs - or by the housing minister? What do you think?

Neither is there any assessment of the suitability of the landlords of these properties, or any interest by Barnet whatsoever in the way in which these landlords may manage the tenancies once the property has been taken on. Once again, Barnet's position is that the responsibility for the tenancy is the landlords' and nothing whatsoever to do with the council.

In our case, even when presented with proof of the landlords' refusal to cooperate with the police over drug abuse allegations, their refusal to acknowledge their tenants' ASB, the fact that the property had to be cleared of rat infested rubbish by Barnet's own Environmental Health Team, the two incidents of harassment by the landlords of us on our own doorstep: none of this was serious enough for Barnet to take any formal action against the owners. Even though the tenants and the landlords have both apparently breached the conditions of an assured shorthold tenancy, this is no business of the council, we are told.

Within a fortnight of the Smiths moving in and turning our lives upside down, we decided, reluctantly, to attempt to explain to the owners of the house what sort of people were living in their property, and ask them to take steps to address the problems they were causing. I say reluctantly, because the owners of the house, are unreasonable and volatile characters who we knew would not take kindly to us raising our concerns. To put it mildly.

Mr Angry rang Sophia, one of the owners whom we had seen visiting the house a few days after the Smiths moved in. She claimed, oddly, that the property no longer had anything to do with the her, and was evidently not going to listen to what we had to say.

In the months before the tenants moved in, Sophia's brothers, George and Tony, began throwing rubbish from the house into the back garden. They began to massacre the wildly overgrown trees and shrubs in the garden, hacking off branches in random fashion, leaving the ravaged stumps like the fractured trees from a first world war battle scene. The branches were thrown on top of the broken furniture and other crap from the house. And then, at almost midnight on the night before the tenants moved in, we observed the brothers and sisters outside in the pitch black, working with torches, piling even more stuff on the garden. The next morning, we looked out and saw that the entire garden was now full of rubbish of every type: a mountain of junk. When that same morning the Smiths moved in we simply could not believe any family would be prepared to live in such a place. Of course we hadn't got to know the Smiths yet.

After the bonfires, and an pointless plea to Tony and his sister to get the tenants to stop, the council's Environmental Health team came to see the rubbish, by then attracting rats, and they notified the owners to clear the garden. Some of the family came to the property, looking around the house and garden. We were relieved as they had arrived before Tracey Smith had had time to remove the bong and other drug paraphernalia in the garden. When they left, we were amazed to hear Mrs Smith tell her family, 'yeah, s'alright, we just gotta paint the walls again ... ' They were staying? We sent a text to Sophia asking if she had not noticed the bong and other stuff. She did not reply.

I had to go out that night and returned home very late to find Mr Angry, and our two children, unexpectedly still all up and awake, sitting in the front room, buzzing with outrage. It appeared that while I was out, the two sisters, Sophia and Tina, had arrived on the doorstep, and rang the bell. When Mr Angry opened the door, they screamed abuse at him: how dare we report them to the council? How dare we allow a council officer to take photos of their garden? How dare we complain about their tenants? Did we want to pay the rent on the house and all their bills instead?

Our daughter had watched this attack fearfully from behind the curtain. 'They were like a pair of harpies, ' she said, authoritively, being the star pupil in her Classics set. 'More like the Gorgons,' said my son. 'But don't worry, Mum, I got rid of them ... Dad was being all reasonable, you know, 'Why don't you calm down, and talk about this rationally, and all that crap.' He had sat on the stairs listening to this volley of abuse and then decided enough was enough. He stormed down the stairs to the front door. 'Just how, ' he demanded, 'do you expect me to revise for my GCSEs living with this day after day, night after night? You have no idea what it's like. Why should we put up with this? How I am I supposed to concentrate on my work?' Sophia spat at him 'Go to a library!' He looked at her with the withering contempt that only a teenage boy can muster: 'You disgust me ...' and he turned to the other twisted sister, pointing at her: ' and you: you disgust me ...' 'And then', he said with a shrug, 'they scarpered ...'

In desperation, we discussed our situation with a local solicitor. He told us that although we had rights in law that we could pursue, it would cost a prohibitive amount of money. Despite this, we eventually felt we had no option but to send a formal letter -costing us several hundred pounds, together with the advice - to the landlords informing them of the trouble that their tenants were causing. They simply ignored the letter.

It was suggested to the council by a councillor that as the garden and outhouses of the property had to be cleared by an order from Environmental Health, it might be a good idea to check out, belatedly, the state of the house itself. Unbelievably, this was rejected on the grounds that if might 'make things worse'. Worse for whom?

One Saturday evening, we saw the landlords, who by now had been spoken to by police and council officers about the situation, visiting their property. To our horror, afterwards, Sophia and her brother Tony rang our door bell. My husband answered it. Sophia immediately launched into an unprovoked attack: 'What exactly', she sneered, ' is your problem?' She yelled a series of incoherent accusations again: I said if they didn't go away at once, we would phone the police, but they just stood there, Sophia ranting, completely irrational. We were making everything up, she claimed - so we listed the various incidents of police attendance, the recent trashing of a local school gardens by the Smith children immediately after a visit by police and a council officer, the drug taking -'you have no proof ' yes, we do - your tenants are so stupid they have put photos of themselves smoking reefers in your kitchen on Facebook, for one thing - How dare we invade the privacy of their tenants (really!). I tried appealing to the brother, who was slightly less antagonistic than his sister: I told him that we knew they didn't care about us, but we thought they might care about their own property, and if they took steps to evict the Smiths, we would provide the evidence. Not interested. In despair, I asked Sophia why on earth we would make all this up - did she think we liked living like this? Yes - yes, she said, if you don't like it, why don't you move?

I pulled Mr Angry away, told her again to get lost, and slammed the door. I went up to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bath and cried like a child, from rage, and from the humiliation of being screamed at by a rabid fishwife on my own doorstep. Not only did we have to put up with the behaviour of the Smiths, night and day, we weren't even safe in our own home from abuse at the hands of Sophia and her shameless siblings. We reported the incident to the council, of course, and the police. The council did nothing, as Homechoice landlords are of course, not their responsibility. One of our local police officers, thankfully, paid Sophia a visit and somehow extracted an undertaking from her not to repeat her behaviour, which came as an enormous relief.

Even now, after everything that these landords have done or failed to do, despite repeated requests, Barnet will not agree that Sophia and her family must be refused further Homechoice tenants. We have been told this verbally, at a meeting at NLBP with senior legal officers, and in writing. So, even if rumours are true, and the Smiths are at last being moved elsewhere, there is nothing to stop another family being moved in to replace them. Can you imagine how this feels?

And what does this say about Barnet's housing policy, that they are prepared to condone the behaviour of landlords - and tenants - like these, to accept any property, sight unseen, as suitable for the most needy families in the borough, most no doubt with children, as long as they are no longer the responsibility of the authority.

Surely it is the mark of any civilised society that those most in need of help will be given the support they deserve? And I mean deserve: those like the Smiths who take advantage of the system and wilfully exploit it should go the end of the queue, as far as I am concerned, but the vast majority of homeless people are decent people just wanting somewhere to live that is safe, clean, and with responsible landlords. It is the duty of a local authority to provide or recommend accommodation that meets those basic requirements. What does it say about our council that it simply does not care about the state of the housing offered via the Homechoice scheme?

Newsflash: Mrs Smith has returned from her little break. And: a removal van has appeared in the road. I repeat: a removal van ...

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Crime and Punishment

Hmmm. Well. It seems news of the neighbours from hell's departure was premature, delayed by Mrs Smith taking another well deserved holiday, thoughtfully leaving at least three youths in the house in case we missed her too much. Mrs Angry wishes her family could afford as many holidays as Mrs Smith, but sadly the Angry family income has to be spent on the mortgage, minus a whopping amount of tax to pay for the various benefits received by the Smith family and their resident guests. Of course, as you can imagine, Mr Angry has been only too happy to be kept awake night after night by the Smith boys and their excitable chums and then tiptoe off to work knackered, foul tempered and and bleary eyed, closing the front door gently while they enjoy a nice long lie in, bless them.

So Mrs Angry must pass the time somehow, counting down the days, the hours, until they may leave for pastures new, to make life hell for some as yet unwitting neighbours somewhere else. Of course, no one at Barnet Council has had the courtesy to tell us what is happening - or indeed answer any of our many enquiries in the last few weeks - despite the heightened risk to us of a nasty parting gift from this ghastly household.

Well, plenty more stuff to blog about: fifteen months worth, to be exact. And now we have an election officially on the way, oh dear - unfortunate timing ...

The other day, I thought I would take a look at the Barnet Council page on Facebook - yes, fellow residents, there is one, check it out if you are really, really at a loss for something to do late one night. Maybe your neighbours are keeping you awake, for example. Anyway, on the Facebook page, a man who is very upset about potholes has been particularly active on there (can't really blame him, either) and now Ann Gry, my Facebook persona, has left her calling card, so to speak. To put a message on the wall, of course, you have to become a 'fan' of Barnet Council: how amusing. Let's see how many fans there are on May 6th, Lynne. And Mike.

I noticed at the weekend (when the wall is inaccessible, no doubt for fear of unwelcome comments) that in response, a guy had left a reply praising the management of ASB in Barnet. He is, I discovered, on a three month internship with Barnet Council, poor innocent boy. So Mrs Angry has now pointed out to him the interesting conclusion of a recent Metropolitan Police Service Public Attitude survey, in which only one per cent of those questioned strongly agreed that the police and council are dealing with the antisocial behaviour and crime issues that matter in Barnet.

Funnily enough, this survey came to my attention just last week when, in my capacity as pillar of the community,(yes, me), I was attending a Safer Neighbourhood panel training session in a local church hall. This evening did not get off to the best start, I have to say. When we arrived, there was an invitation to help ourselves to tea and biscuits.. A nice man came up to me with a plate of Wagonwheels: I said, oh: no, thanks, Wagonwheels always make me feel guilty ... 'Guilty?' he queried, and before I could stop myself I had let slip that in my wicked past I used to steal them from the nun who used to run our school tuck shop. Sister Philomena, a batty, ancient, stooping, almost blind nun, who never noticed what we were up to, luckily. I laughed. He didn't. A look of dismay passed over his face. And of course he turned out to be the police sergeant trainer who was leading the session. Throughout the evening I could see him sneaking looks at that terrible woman who used to mug elderly, sight impaired nuns. I felt truly ashamed , wanting to point out that actually, that was the beginning and end of my criminal activities. Sadly, I think I might be thrown off the ward panel now. Sorry, Dave. I'll get my coat.

This PC PC, or PC PS, rather, had strong views on how best to deal with antisocial behaviour. Guess what, you must engage with the perpetrators. And tell their mums. Apparently, the most effective condition of any ASBO, should you live in a borough where such methods are commonly used, ie not Barnet, is to state that the naughty boy is not allowed on a bus without his mother. I can see that this might be effective, bearing in mind the memorable time Mrs Angry encountered her son on the 125 bus in North Finchley, and he pretended he didn't know her. However, I do think that a more stringent approach to ASB might be appropriate when taking into account the victims of long running cases: less engagement, more enforcement.

Amongst the other interesting things we discussed that evening was the new way in which success in tackling crime will be reviewed in the future: in the past, the number of arrests would be counted, and then the police would be told to go and make some more, and the next year more again etc. Nowadays the government prefers that people's feelings and perceptions are assessed: policing is becoming more and more of a touchy feely political game, where the Home Office, for example, comes up with a brilliant sounding Policing Pledge, and then informs the police they must abide by its promises, whether or not the resources are available to do so. Silly, very silly.

It is also unfortunate that the promises politicians make about tackling antisocial behaviour are not accompanied by a requirement from local authorities to follow a standard approach to the issue. At the moment it seems that each authority varies widely in the practical management of ASB within its area of responsibility. In bargain basement Barnet, it seems, the issue has been kicked right to the bottom of the stairs.

It emerged at the training session that the body which is supposed to represent all of the Safer Neighbourhood panels in Barnet, and to act as a forum for discussion with the council, has seemingly not met for eighteen months. This, we were told by an elderly gentleman from Totteridge, with evident disapproval, was because some bolshy troublemakers had objected to the politicisation of the body by certain councillors. I'm looking at you, Coleman: step forward. Is this true?

Whatever the reason for this lack of engagement with the council, it means that interaction between the ward panels and the local authority is almost non existent, other than if your local councillors bother to attend the meetings, which I am glad to say they do in my ward. It appears to me that there is a worrying lack of interest from the Barnet administration in the maintenance of good relations with the Safer Neighbourhood teams and panels. If this is the case, it is no wonder that there is so little recognition in Barnet of the problems of ASB and other local crime issues. With feedback from local safer neighbourhood panels, the authority would be much better informed about the day to day reality of residents' experience of crime, and what they want done about it. Trouble is, Barnet doesn't want to know, doesn't want to hear. It's sticking its fingers in its ears and singing la la la very loudly instead.

Monday 5 April 2010

Helping the police with their enquiries

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.

Friday 2 April 2010

The Long Good Friday

Well, well.

It seems it might just be possible that soon Mrs Angry will be able to stop sleeping in the kitchen, and her family return to some sort of normal life in their own home. I don't want to jinx things by saying too much, as we are sitting here with fingers crossed, and hoping ... but yesterday we heard rumours of a very interesting development. And how, you may ask, has that come about?

After all, throughout fifteen months of hell, the reporting of hundreds of incidents of antisocial behaviour, a never ending campaign of complaining, complaining, complaining and complaining again - and again - endless emails, letters and phone calls to various officers of the London Borough of Barnet, nothing happened.

When I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, despite all our efforts, and the addition of an active investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman, ( still to be concluded, and cleverly complicated by the Machiavellian politics and incompetence of Barnet Council,) we were in exactly the same position as before, living in an intolerable situation, unable to escape from our now unsellable home, and no real hope in sight of any near resolution.

This blog began after yet another incident of harassment by a member of the Smith household - more than four hours worth, reducing me to an hysterical wreck. By now of course, the Smiths had become utterly confident that nothing they do will result in any legal proceedings, because their mother's pretence at 'engagement' with the naively trusting social services and other agencies has so far protected them from the consequences of their appalling behaviour - the whole family being deemed to be 'vulnerable' and in need of support, not punishment ... This time, the dear little Smith made the mistake of performing in front of hundreds of people passing by, and we were able to take the details of several witnesses, who happily agreed to give statements to the police.

At the end of last year, we were sent a devastating letter from a solicitor at Barnet informing us that, despite so many months of promises of an inevitable ASBO application in relation to this family, a 'multi agency meeting' had decided to ignore the weight of evidence of their ASB and offer our tormentors 'intervention' and support. There was nothing we could do, except take our own legal action (even though they had said there was no problem anyway) oh, and maybe install sound proofing, which would cost, they reckoned, £10,000. Yes, really. This is, as we pointed out, an innovative approach to safeguarding children, isn't it? Don't worry about a mother 'whacking' her kids - just cover up the noise.

The next day, members of the family ran up to our front door, rang the bell and yelled 'Merry Christmas: FUCK OFF!' at us, to the great amusement of the entire household, who were gathered in a mob outside in the dark. At the time, ironically, I was on the phone, answering a call from a detective at Colindale police station who was investigating a recent fight next door. In this delightful episode, one of Tracey Smith's daughters was arrested and taken for questioning after a violent incident involving her ex partner. We had had to listen to this one Saturday evening - the terrible sounds of battering, fighting, the most foul abuse: 'You fucking C*nt', screamed repeatedly at the father of her kids, who was evidently on the losing side.
In fact it was so violent, and the language so disgusting, even by their standards, that we had to send our daughter to her room so that she didn't hear anymore. When I rang 999, I could hardly speak, I was so shaking so much. Of course we reported this incident to the council, but it made no difference - Mrs Smith, who had not bothered to call the police when her daughter was beating the crap out of her ex, was in their view, 'engaging' with them so that was ok.

When we first made a complaint to the Ombudsman, we were suddenly summoned to a meeting at the council offices in order to discuss the long awaited ASBO proceedings. This was puzzling, as the then Leader of the Council had just abruptly informed us there was not going to be any such proceedings now, despite many months of promises and every reassurance by police and council officers. In the summer, when Mrs Smith had gone abroad on a well deserved holiday, leaving her oldest son and yob friends to make our lives even more miserable, day and night, and concluding with an all night party with a fight at 3 in the morning, a teenage girl sobbing on our doorstep, and some yob shouting about a gun ... well, we did begin to question why still nothing was happening re enforcement. Mrs Smith had refused to sign an ABC (acceptable behaviour contract) or PCO (parental control order) and we were assured ASBO application would follow any further trouble. Of course there was trouble, but weeks and months went by and nothing happened, hence the complaint to the LGO.

What we hadn't appreciated was that Barnet, having got rid of its one antisocial behaviour officer, simply was no longer up to the job of dealing with a case like ours. And then we discovered, after about eight months or so after the trouble had begun, that according to Home Office guidelines, no ASBO proceedings can be taken on incidents more tha six months old, other than as background information. We had lost the opportunity for much of our evidence to be used, in other words.

At the meeting with senior officers at Barnet, we were rather oddly encouraged to believe that the ASBO was still a viable move, despite the leader's comments. We were also encouraged to talk about 'our complaint' at the same time. When we got home, we found a letter from the Ombudsman which informed us that in fact Barnet had already told the LGO our complaint to him was invalid, and premature. We had attended the meeting that day without being told this was their position, and we had been deceived into talking to them about the issue under a total misapprehension. Confused? Imagine how we felt. Used, is how we felt: well and truly.

Nothing changed until, months later, we asked the Ombudsman to take a closer look at what was going on. We pointed out that we had been just abandoned to our fate, with no real consideration for our needs and rights, no time limit on the tolerance that was being extended to the Smith family and their continuing ASB.

Suddenly, out of the murky, unfathomable depths of NLBP, a shiny, sparkly new proposal emerged from the council which it claimed - retrospectively - had been agreed last year - but not communicated to us, strangely. This new thinking involved a move of the family to a different property as part of a scheme which is only used in regard to people who are about to be, or could be, evicted for ASB. At last it had been admitted that the family really were guilty of ASB, a huge change in attitude. And for a while, we actually believed this move was about to happen. It didn't, and we began to slide back into the depths of despair.

Up til now, the role played by our long suffering local safer neighbourhood police in dealing with our situation had been dependent on a rather onesided partnership with the council. By this point, even they had concluded that this was a waste of time. It had become obvious that relying last year on council assurances that ASBO proceedings were inevitable, our case was hopelessly compromised.

There were two options left: an appeal to the senior police management in Barnet, and the threat of publicity.

The conventional route we took, the one you are supposed to follow -the endless recording of the ASB, the stage managed meetings and letters, the year and more of complaining and campaigning - none of this did any good. In the end what may have brought an end to all this has been the direct intervention by senior police officers, oh, and Mrs Angry's tiptoing into the dirty world of local politics at a time of pre-election sensitivity ...

Who says blogging is a waste of time?