Nobody wants a neighbour from hell. Here in the North West national consumer watchdogs at Which? estimate three in 10 of us live with neighbours who annoy us – or even make our lives a complete and utter misery through noise nuisance, intimidation, territorial disputes, public disorder or other issues.
That figure’s set to soar, as summer’s longer days and lighter nights spell more trouble spilling out of homes, over garden fences, on to streets, some leaving neighbours prisoners in their own home, rather than face their oppressors in a war of attrition.
Around five million people nationally are involved in rows with neighbours. Some 10 million have had a neighbour problem in the last year. How do they deal with it? Who do they turn to?
And what will councils across the land do if one couple, Paul and Amanda Wilkes, labelled neighbours from hell, and evicted from their Blackpool home four years ago, win their test case against the British legislation that forced them out?
Four years of appeals against the eviction have failed, but now they have won the right to challenge the decision in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The application was lodged in November 2007. They are represented by Blackpool legal firm Atkinson, Cave and Stuart.
The hearing date, is as yet, unknown, but the clock is ticking as the landmark case could shatter the fragile peace of mind that exists for those who pin their last hopes of a quiet life on British law.
Monica Jaimini, a lawyer for Which? legal service, who advises on a wide variety of consumer law issues including tenancy problems, says local councils are often the first line of defence after attempts to resolve a dispute have failed. “It is always better to try to work things out amicably,” she adds. “It’s important to get advice early on. People come to me when it has escalated to such a level they feel frightened, trapped in homes, intimidated.”
The couple claim their rights have been violated, under article eight of the European Convention of Human Rights, which stipulates: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The Wilkes were evicted, together with son Kris and daughter Jade, from their home at Layton’s Laycock Gate estate after 57 allegations of anti-social behaviour were recorded over a five month spell – between August 7 2006 and January 2 2007.
Former neighbours have been stunned by the decision to give the couple their day in court. “What of our rights?” asked one elderly lady, who asked to remain anonymous. “They made our lives a living hell.”
“They made problem after problem,” added Brian Street, 49. “People were scared to go down the street.”
“They were having parties all the time,” said Katie Parks, 28. “It’s been so much better since.”
In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, Amanda Wilkes said she regretted the “times when it kicked off”, but added: “I won’t admit to what we didn’t do. Of those complaints, I’d say only about a third are true.”
A Blackpool Council spokesman stresses the legal action is not against the local authority. “Paul and Amanda Wilkes do not currently live in a Blackpool Council property. The proceedings are not against Blackpool Council, as the couple are asking the European Court to examine the legislation that was used, and not the eviction, which was carried out legally.”
But if the Wilkes win, the verdict could have immense implications for councils across the land creating the precedent for further appeals. Nuisance neighbours consistently top the list of blights on peace of mind reported to our three local authorities, particularly in the summer. For some, eviction is the only, and ultimate, weapon.
Blackpool police have also got tougher on anti-social behaviour since new powers to “restore harmony” were introduced.
Closure notices, obtained by police through magistrates, were served on two properties in North Shore last summer, forcing tenants, including a family with seven children, and another family with three children, to leave or face properties being boarded up, after persistent complaints about drunken parties, swearing and shouting, criminal damage, abuse and threats.
Sergeant Gareth Stubbs, neighbourhood policing ofﬁcer for Claremont, hailed it a breakthrough, conceding: “We spent countless hours trying to reason with them and the landlord but got nowhere.”
There was further rejoicing in Fleetwood last September, after neighbours got together to give witness statements to enable police to banish another family from hell, who had subjected one couple to so many threats and intimidation they seldom left their home, and had been equipped with a panic button to summon police.