Saturday 29 May 2010

Love Thy Neighbour

Mrs Angry's blog has had some interesting visitors recently, it seems.

Amongst the majority of anonymous and London based ISPs of most of her readers, (don't panic, haven't got a clue who you are: no name, no pack drill) some are more unusual in origin, having distinctive servers, or have arrrived at 'Broken Barnet' by really rather unpredictable routes. Greetings, therefore, to readers in California, Berlin, Malaysia, and Dublin. And Basildon. And for those at the GLA (hello, and an especially warm welcome to you!) and other government departments: hope this is more interesting than Facebook, or Twitter, and that the boss doesn't catch you skiving. Hello to new friends at certain daily and local newspapers, oh, and by the way, you too, Anna, still on your flipping iphone ...

Only thing is, now I have been worrying about the trail left by my own internet browsing, and some of the sites I idly look at (no, not those sort of sites, thank you, although I do have to out myself as a secret Daily Mail reader, now the game is up)- as well as my buying habits on Amazon, after the recent newpaper reports listing the rather disturbing reading matter of the alleged serial killer arrested in Bradford this week. After a prolonged interval of distraction and despair caused by dealing with our neighbour problem, I have now, at last, been able to resume my previous (pre)occupation, researching and writing a book about a little known, but unfortunately rather prolific, female Victorian poisoner who had a nasty habit of despatching her husbands, lovers and children with arsenic, and then coining it in with the proceeds of their life assurance and burial club money. Much of my recent Amazon purchasing history, therefore, has been on the somewhat unwholesome subject of women who kill, poisoners, the uses and abuses of arsenic etc. Intense questioning takes place on a regular basis in the Angry kitchen, in fact, as to what, exactly, is for dinner and then is it supposed to taste like that, and Mr Angry has pointed out that if anything funny happens to him the old bill will be checking out my Amazon account with great interest. They probably won't be that surprised. But I digress.

I have noticed in the last week or so that a lot of people reading this blog have come via the 'Neighbours from Hell in Britain' website. I've linked my blog to this site, for obvious reasons, and recommend it to anyone else who may be in circumstances similar to us. There are currently 27,485 members, and the site claims to be 'The world's most popular help site for anyone with neighbour problems'. Be warned, though: looking through the forum topics is a depressing experience: stories abound with titles born out of deep despair, such as 'I have had enough, can't take any more' or 'We are at the end of our tether' etcetera. If I didn't know it already, it would no doubt be genuinely shocking to see the impact that problems like ours can have on family life, or the life of an individual. The effects are profound, and long lasting: once your home has been the location of continual harassment, or other forms of disruption by antisocial neighbours, you can never really feel safe in that environment again, and the psychological damage that the situation leaves you with, as well as the stress incurred by the difficulties you will have experienced in trying to find a resolution to the problem, is not easily put aside.

It is clear from even a brief look at this site that there is an urgent need for radical action and new legislation to support the victims of longterm ASB or 'neighbours from hell', and that currently, local authorities are the main culprits in the failure to properly address the problem. A common theme expressed in the forums is that the council response is to look for ways of avoiding formal and effective action: often no doubt because of cost, and the outlook on this tendency is bleak, due to the apparent preference of the new government in giving more responsibilties to local government at the same time as expecting huge savings to be made in spending.

There are many posts on the NFH in Britain site referring to the local government Ombudsman process which we, along with many others, have had to resort to, in despair at failing to receive what we consider to be the necessary assistance from our local authority. As our investigation is still underway, I won't comment other than to say that there should be some easier and quicker way for authorities to be held to account for any failures to act against serious cases of ASB. If, as we were, you are the victims of a long term case, the drawn out process only makes your ordeal so much more traumatic. Although there are, in theory, legal processes in which victims can engage to end the disruption to their lives, the cost is prohibitive, so in practice you are without the ability to protect your most basic human rights, and this all the more galling when your neighbour from hell can so easily get free legal aid and advice for any action she may face as a consequence of her selfish and aggressive behaviour.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may well feel reluctant to make a complaint about your tormentors for fear of the consequences. If the source of your trouble is a neighbour, obviously you will have to live with the fall out from any complaint you make, and even if a complaint is in some way successful, during the many months in which you will be told to log all problems, and then wait for intervention by the appropriate authoritities, and seeing them being offered 'support' and a chance to amend their ways, or mediation, or the signing of behaviour contracts etc etc etc - after all that, you then face more months of waiting while formal action is considered - and during all this time you are not only having to continue to struggle with the behaviour of your NFH, you have to deal with the fact that they are next door, and able to make your life even worse now they know you are complaining about them. They will of course be told in detail about the allegations you have made and will deny them and more than likely will be tempted to retaliate when they think no one is looking. You have to live with the fear that they will do something to hurt you or your family in revenge for being reported to the authorities, and after all, they do know where you live, don't they? And of course, as in our case, they will even if they are moved on.

The other terrible dilemma, should this happen to you, and you wonder what action to take, is that once a complaint is made, your home, if you are the owner, instantly becomes worthless. You cannot sell your property without declaring any dispute, and this will be on file to prospective buyers. Even if you do eventually get rid of the NFH, this may still make it difficult to sell in the future, without an awful lot of explanation. Is anyone going to compensate you for this devaluation of your home?

I don't know what the answer to all this is, other than an absolute zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour and an inflexible statutory obligation for all local authorities to have in place a properly resourced ASB team, meeting nationally required standards, able to respond quickly and effectively to cases like ours. You might think that all these things are already in place, but in practice, each local authority varies wildly in the degree of committment it shows to tackling ASB and supporting the victims of such circumstances.

In the short time since our lovely neighbours departed to their new home, we have not really readjusted to normal life. In fact, I don't think we will ever be the same. I certainly won't, I can't. I still feel like a refugee from a war zone, or a soldier with shell shock expecting to be sent back to the trenches at a moment's notice. I still can't sleep at night, or walk down the street without checking to see who is hanging about outside. I still feel panic stricken at the slightest stupid thing. My doctor, apart from trying to prescribing medication I don't want to become dependent on, isn't much comfort: of course she knows all about what has happened, and just cannot believe why we were left in such an awful mess. The counsellor she sent me to was no help either: she sat listening in horror to the story for an hour, and said afterwards that for once she could think of no positive suggestion whatsoever, and hoped it didn't happen to her. I didn't bother going back.

My home doesn't feel like home anymore, not just because of what happened but because we don't even know whether we will be able to stay here. We don't know who is going to move in now: all we know is that Barnet has stated that it 'cannot' stop using the owners for their Homechoice scheme. It's hard to explain what anxiety this is causing. All I do know is that the likes of Mike Freer, and Lynne Hillan, and all the other guilty parties at Broken Barnet Council don't give a shit. Well, as they say, what goes around, comes around, and I sincerely hope something like this happens to them in the near future. With my compliments.

Or perhaps I should invite them round for dinner?

Update, Monday: well, it seems all my obsessive worrying about return visits by the Smith household wasn't entirely misplaced. Half an hour ago. my heart stopped when I saw one of Mrs Smith's yob hangers on furtively arrive next door, with his hoodie pulled over his face, and sneak up to their old front door, hang around for a bit, and then leg it. I can't imagine what the hell he was up to. I hope he wasn't trying a key.

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