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?