Send an Asbo over the fence

How a pensioner can deal with her nuisance neighbours

By Jonathan Goldberg, December 30, 2009

Ingrid from Sunderland writes:

I was recently widowed, and now live alone in the same terraced house where we lived throughout our 60 years of marriage. Until last year we had lovely neighbours, but then a new family moved in, who have caused us constant trouble. They play music loudly all day long, such that I have to keep my doors and windows shut to deaden the noise, and they have ignored my many polite requests to turn the volume down.

Worse still is the behaviour of their 11-year-old son, who regularly kicks his ball over the fence into our back garden and then enters without permission to retrieve it. On one occasion last summer the ball hit my late husband when he was dozing in a deckchair, distressing him greatly. As a result I began to collect his various balls and now have about 10 of them, which I refuse to return to him.

But this does not seem to have deterred him. Last weekend his father accused me angrily in the street of stealing the balls and threatened to call the police. He also threatened to cut a large hole in the fence so his son can collect them in future whenever he wants. I am at my wits end. Please can you help me ? I live on my pension and I have no money to spare for lawyers’ bills.

Ingrid, there is an effective remedy available, which happily should cost you nothing. All local councils nowadays employ what are called Anti-Social Behaviour Officers. You will find details on their website. You should phone them and explain your complaint. Probably you will need to complete a form, be interviewed and make a witness statement to the officer.

Over 1,500 such orders are made each year

The likely next stage will be for the officer to contact your neighbours and issue verbal and written warnings to improve their behaviour, by lowering the noise, disciplining their son and desisting from the threats to you.

If such civilised intervention does not do the trick, however, they have the power to summons your neighbours to the local magistrates court and apply for an Asbo (Anti-social behaviour order) against them. Indeed since the minimum age is as low as 10, they could even go against the child himself. The order is a creation of David Blunkett when Home Secretary in 1998, and some would say (myself included) one of his few real achievements in the field of criminal justice. How it works is this: if satisfied by evidence that the defendant has behaved in an anti-social manner, which means that he has committed acts causing harassment, alarm or distress, the court will issue an order restraining him from committing such acts in future.

Over 1,500 such orders are made each year. A subsequent breach of the order is a criminal offence which will involve the defendant being sent back to court and punished, often with imprisonment. So an Asbo does have real teeth and I hope you will be able to achieve one here.

Examples of such orders made in the recent past up and down the country have involved such things as begging, graffiti, dog mess, littering, drunkenness, vandalism and noise.

However, my favourite example is that of Mrs Caroline Cartwright, who admitted breaches of her Asbo earlier this month in your own Sunderland court by making love with her husband so noisily, that her next-door neighbours on both sides were unable to sleep for weeks on end. It was heard in court that the local council officer had recorded her noise level when measured next door at 47 decibels. This is something akin to the noise level of a jet engine, apparently. Mrs Cartwright told the magistrates in her evidence that “for her and her husband it was perfectly normal”, and that “she did not understand where the neighbours were coming from”.

Further comment by me would be superfluous, and perhaps outside the remit of a mere lawyer.

The above is not formal legal advice and is strictly without liability. Readers should consult a lawyer on any matter concerning them. All readers’ questions will be treated anonymously and all names changed. Jonathan Goldberg QC is a leading lawyer practising at Ely Place Chambers in London

Last updated: 10:37am, December 30 2009