The Strange Case of Quarry Heads


Although this blogspot has been outwardly inactive for well over eighteen months now, we’ve been extremely active behind the scenes, as a major scandal looms on the horizon for Labour controlled Durham County Council in the wake of the implementation of a new local government initiative to off load land, buildings, and other assets still temporarily in Council hands, over to community ownership. With the government’s ‘forced austerity’ measures still in full swing and no sign of a change in direction in the event of a Labour victory in May, under the new county wide ‘Assets Transfer’ policy Durham County Council are looking at ways to transfer as many of their presently owned assets over to community ownership as possible; with a whole array of different public bodies including community groups, housing associations and parish councils just some of the organizations getting directly involved.

When last we were visibly active we raised the issue of the former Council land at Quarry Heads, Toft Hill, just outside of Bishop Auckland, with which Etherley Parish Council, Teesdale District Council and Durham County Council have all had direct involvements over a period of some thirty or so years. The scandal itself first erupted in the early nineteen nineties when members of a well known criminal family managed to obtain some sort of rights of possessory title over part of the land by what can best be described as highly irregular means. In spite of a major public hue and cry and repeated written representation being made to the then District Council and other related parties by former Labour District Councillor Joe Smith, nothing was ever done and all further attempts to get the situation rectified were subsequently ignored.

During the intervening period the criminal network involved were to successfully manage to establish a power base on the land in question, which, in spite of their claims in the local press, in which it has been described as a ‘Pets’ Plot’, resembles something more akin to a Taleban Compound than a place to keep one’s furry little friends. And, in more recent times, the situation had been allowed to get so bad, with the Police and their various ‘partner agencies’ both failing and refusing to get directly involved, that an article in the Teesdale Mercury which appeared in the wake of a meeting of Etherley Parish Council, at which the Council’s proposals to hand over responsibility for the land to the Parish were discussed in full, described Quarry Heads as a ‘no go area’. Although the Quarry Heads were now being described as a ‘no go area’ in the press, something which it had been for many residents for a considerable period of time, the Police still seemed incapable of providing a credible explanation as to why such a situation had been allowed to develop in the first place.

In addition to providing a reasonably detailed and up to date report on both the County Council and the Parish Council’s current position on the Quarry Heads, the ‘Teesdale Mercury’ also revealed that members of Council Staff who had become involved in trying to rectify a situation which years of what the article itself was to describe as ‘illegal encroachment’, on what had formerly been publicly owned land, had actually been physically threatened by the criminal family at the centre of the controversy around which the land itself is still effectively surrounded. For residents of the nearby Red House Estate which is situated directly adjacent to the land at Quarry Heads, although things there are considerably quieter there than they were when this entire controversy erupted well over twenty years ago, it is quite astounding that the late Joe Smith’s attempts to get the situation rectified were effectively sidelined for decades. During the intervening period however when Police and Council alike failed to take the appropriate action necessary for bringing the situation under control, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage appears to have been done to many of the properties on the estate, whilst large numbers of residents appear to have been forced to go elsewhere in spite of the public authority that is presently responsible for the up keep and management of the Estate making widespread claims to the contrary.

In the meantime, and in spite of the outward appearance of normality, little or no sign of any direct change appears to have taken place with regard to the ownership and stewardship of the land itself. According to present reports the area is still frequented by the same undesirable element who were previously responsible for the alleged threats made to Council Staff referred to in the ‘Teesdale Mercury’. And, in spite of a clear Council commitment to getting the situation resolved, there seems little sign of the kind of drastic measures that need to be taken to restore the land to its rightful owners: the people of Toft Hill and High Etherley, actually manifesting on the ground.

 

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The Systematic Sidelining of Complaints

On 28th March 2013 local County Durham pensioner John Arthur Gibbon Marley visited the Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Helen Goodman M.P., at her scheduled Constituency Surgery, at Barnard Castle, in the company of investigative journalist and film maker Rupert Ferguson. Mr. Marley, a repeat victim of crime, harassment, bullying, anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and general all round nuisance at the hands of his neighbours, was there to obtain assistance in relation to a number of matters outstanding, in particular a complete failure to take appropriate action on the part of the Police.

Amongst the subjects under discussion, in addition to the lack of Police action, was the involvement of certain criminal elements and their various contacts within Durham County Council in what amounts to a possessory title scam on land that they had previously squatted at nearby Quarry Heads. During the course of the conversation the subject of a dossier of documents that had formerly been in the possession of the local District Councillor, Joe Smith, was raised in relation to Quarry Heads; to which Goodman appears to have responded that quite a number of others like them appear to have gone missing too; during the course of the change over from the old District Council system of local government to the new Unitary Authority System.

In the embedded sound file at the top of the page Goodman can also be heard assuring her constituents that she will be contacting the new Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, with a view to getting the situation with the Police rectified. Needless to say that, in spite of her assurances, Mr. Hogg has neither seen fit to contact Mr. Marley directly, nor has he taken the time to visit him at his home as he had assured him that he would do at a joint surgery that he and Goodman had held in June, the best part of three months later: where he was to repeat these self-same assurances verbally himself.

Readers of this blog who may be unaware of Goodman’s involvement with Red Houses and Teesdale Housing Association, who manage the Estate, may therefore not find it uninteresting to note that she was first approached by residents in relation to the situation on the Estate in November 2006. More than Six-and-a-half years on and the same criminal families are causing trouble for residents, whilst she has done nothing other than make verbal and written claims that she is in some way concerned about the daily plight of residents; who have had to put up with a persistent on going nuisance that has been further compounded by the diet of lies and deceit that they have been force-fed by Police and Housing Association alike.

Of further significance still is the fact that in spite of being directly involved in the official opening of Teesdale Housing Association, in which she was a guest of hounour and participant, Goodman seems incapable of actually getting a straight answer to a straight question out of them in relation to any of the issues that her constituents want raised. Why? One explanation that has been put forward is that the present Labour Front Bench is ‘scared of its own shadow’, to quote from the blog of local Anti-Bedroom Tax activist Ben Sellers; who has been retweeted via social media by Michael Meacher and others.

Conspiracy theorists who are less charitable about Goodman’s lack of action see an interesting parallel in her various career moves to those previously taken by Tessa Jowell, whose estranged husband David Mills has been linked to a number of high-profile corruption scandals involving disgraced Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Like former D.F.E.E. Minister Jowell, Goodman was with the Department for Work and Pensions, which succeeded her old department in a similar way to which the old D.E.T.R. has evolved into the C.L.G. Now Goodman has stepped into Jowell’s shoes again as Shadow Minister for Culture Media and Sport.

Whatever the substance, or lack of it, in relation to any on going conspiracy theories,  it is fact that if Goodman had really wanted to get things moving with regard to sorting out the Red House Estate she would have done. Instead she has sat on her hands. Why? Given the fact the criminal element on Red Houses have clear and proven links to a matrix of corruption and criminality at Durham County Council that can be traced back several decades, criminality in which the recently merged Teesdale District Council were themselves provably implicated, does she have involvements of her own that have prevented her from taking any action?

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A Law Unto Themselves: Former Council Staff Able to Threaten and Harass Others With Impunity

The situation with the Slacks on Red Houses is one that seems to have prevailed for a period of some twenty years. Previous to the dismantling of the old District and City Council system in Durham, and the subsequent amalgamation of all of these respective arms of Local Government into a single Unitary Authority, little has come of the extensive promises that appear to have been made to bring about an end to the blatant corruption and criminality exposed in the pages of ‘Private Eye’ magazine’s ‘Rotten Boroughs column at the hands of Tony Martin; the celebrated Durham Cobbler. In fact, thanks to the extensive disappearance and shredding of many important documents, much of the corruption previously referred to appears to have been getting worse.

A valid case in point revolves around the land at Quarry Heads, which lies adjacent to the estate at Red Houses; from which the Slacks have been able to organize burglaries, thefts, drug dealing, harassment, anti-social behaviour and a whole host of inter-related low level criminal activities for years; with little or no real action being taken against the primary instigators of the problem at source. Indeed, as early as 2008 a former District Councillor, who had sat on the Shadow Board of the Housing Association that had been set up to manage all of Teesdale District Council’s former housing stock in the run up to the setting up of the Durham Unitary Authority, had brought the activities of the Slacks directly to the attention of the Local Government Ombudsman.

At about the same time as the Local Government Ombudsman’s subsequent Report and Ruling into the matters then under discussion, documents which actually go so far as to ignore key pieces of evidence which were submitted in the run up to the Ombudsman’s supposed investigations, another report and ruling was simultaneously published; this time by the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service. Once again, members of the Slack Family are mentioned directly as being key trouble makers and nuisances right the way across the estate, not to mention the surrounding area. So why has so little yet to be done about them?

Apart from the alleged family ties between certain members of the Slack Clan and a former Housing Manager at Teesdale Housing Association, there is also clear evidence of some kind of direct involvement with certain serving Police officers and their families. This, it would seem, would appear to be at the heart of the Slacks’ seeming ability to deal drugs, burgle, steal, make threats, and engage in anti-social behaviour with virtual impunity: the absolute bare minimum of what should to all intents and purposes be recognized as the appropriate action in cases such as this ever having been actually taken. Something that was at the core of the former District Councillor’s provably logged complaints against them with the Local Government Ombudsman. Indeed, during the course of the above complaints he himself is on record as having testified to the Ombudsman in relation to being on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that one of his former neighbours can himself be seen being subjected to in the embedded video at the top of this page. For those unable to grasp sufficiently what is being said during the course of this albeit brief exchange, on account of the somewhat poor quality of the sound, an accompanying sound recording of the entire incident has been embedded directly beneath it.

So. why have the Police and their partner agencies still failed to take what should have been the appropriate affirmative response in relation to all of this, unless actually forced to by the persistent complaints of residents to organizations such as the I.P.C.C.,  now that more than four years have passed since the filing of the Ombudsman’s report? According to one account, a number of vested interests have wanted the block of flats outside which this incident can be shown to have taken place demolished for quite some considerable time. Unfortunately, due to the fact that all of the former and current tenants that effectively occupied the block before its wholesale vandalism by the Slacks and their various cohorts, of whom only two out of a dozen or so one time occupancies presently now remain, were possessed of Assured Tenancies, the only way to get them out without paying them the compensation to which they were entitled was by means of harassment like this.

At the bottom of this page the witness who can be seen talking to Kevin Slack, from the relative safety of his own car, can be heard telling the individual at the focus of the above harassment what Mr. Slack had previously told him. As it would appear from this, Mr. Slack has been walking past the windows of residents on the Red House Estate staring aggressively into their living rooms, whilst they themselves have been attempting to go about their daily business, for quite some considerable time now. In view of this, it is perhaps significant that another sound file, consisting of a discussion between the present focus of the Slacks’ attentions and his former Housing Officer, Nicola Stout, which is currently lodged with the Clark Willis Law Firm at Darlington, would likewise appear to indicate that she herself has been speaking to other residents who have been experiencing similar problems at the hands of the Slacks’ extended criminal network into the bargain. And, the fact that a number of these people have since been forced to relocate on account of Teesdale Housing Association’s apparent lack of action in relation to this may well add further substance to the theory that has just been put forward.

So why has something yet to be done, given the fact that this last mentioned recording was provably made in excess of fourteen months previous to the incident recounted here actually taking place? It should be noted that Kevin Slack is himself a one time employee of Durham County Council, who, it has been alleged, has only recently left their employ, for reasons that are still unclear. So, is this last mentioned fact in any way relevant with regard to how the Slacks seem to be a law unto themselves? Many local residents seem to think it is. In due course we shall look at things in relation to the matters described here in more detail, with particular reference to the land at Quarry Heads. And, with regard to this so far unanswered question, to which no one who is supposedly in ‘authority’ has thus far been able to provide anyone with a direct and satisfactory explanation, even their own elected political representatives, we shall attempt to provide the possible answer: now that all of the previously made inquiries have thus far met with a characteristic wall of silence; as is so often the case with anything vaguely awkward in relation to the workings of local authorities generally.

The Systematic Plundering of Resources: Council Staff allegedly involved in theft

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In the run up to the controversial boarding up of two sections of the now semi-derelict block of flats at 56-67 Red Houses, at Bishop Auckland‘s High Etherley in County Durham, a number of flats seem to have been stripped of copper piping, boiler equipment, fixtures and fittings with what appears to have been the active assistance and/or participation of one or more employees of Durham County Council. The decision by Teesdale Housing Association to house a number of individuals with known involvements in the theft of copper and other saleable metals, in breach of locally adopted housing policies, its own contractual agreement with its tenants and national government guidelines, was to lead to a subsequent metal theft free for all which has now left badly needed affordable housing in a serious state of disrepair; and may well turn out to implicate a number of key housing staff with previous links to Teesdale District Council into the bargain.

According to residents, alleged drug dealer Kevin Slack, who, some locals maintain, is in some way related to the Housing Association’s former Managing Director, Peter Slack, is believed to have been a key mover in the apparent disappearance of boiler equipment, copper piping and other saleable items from the block; as vulnerable tenants were driven out of their homes and their recently vacated flats plundered of anything and everything that would be of the slightest interest to a thief. And, in spite of the fact that the Police appear to have been provided with pictures of Mr. Slack, County Council logo on his overalls clearly visible, apparently orchestrating and overseeing operations, no action appears to have been taken to date.

To add insult to injury, following a recent incident in the immediate vicinity of the now almost uninhabited block, in which one of the only two remaining tenants was actively harassed by Mr. Slack, by means of a combination of attempted brow beating, bullying, insults and intimidation only just short of direct threat, the Police seem less than proactive in actually ascertaining his whereabouts; in spite of the fact that they have been given full details of every vehicle he has ever had access to since at least 2006. Why? The embedded sound file below consists of PC Heather Fenwick (71) and PCSO Sara Downs of Bishop Auckland’s Beat Office attempting to explain the situation away in front of unconvinced residents and Councillors at a recent PACT Meeting in the village. In due course we shall look at some more of the Slack’s handiwork, with particular reference to their alleged links to a planning corruption scandal at Durham County Council which could be every bit as serious as the notorious Poulson Affair that brought down one time Chair of Durham Police Authority, Alderman Andrew Cunningham. And, in so doing, we shall be exposing their alleged connections with a number of well placed Police officers who could well have contributed considerably to the Slacks’ more than two decades long run of apparent untouchability……

Corruption Busters Durham SW: A Characteristically Inaccurate Response

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In its response to a December article in the ‘Teesdale Mercury’ dated 20th March 2013, Under the banner headline ‘Run-down estate will be improved- pledge’, Teesdale Housing Association responded to residents’ consternation at the wholesale and deliberate running down of a block of flats in the immediate vicinity of where it plans to construct a brand new row of houses by claiming that the damage to the flats had occurred as a direct result of a ‘quick turnover in tenancy and the properties….being left empty’. Elsewhere in the same article the Housing Association also claimed. quite incorrectly, that this had ultimately resulted in the area being ‘named a hot-spot for trouble by the police.’

In reality the estate had been named a hot spot for trouble well before a September 2007 Etherley Parish Council Survey, published in November of that year, revealed that some 82% of residents taking part believed it to be an anti-social area. So why did it take the Police so long to designate it as such in the first place? In the opening months of 2012, as a direct result of the Police’s persistent failure to act appropriately in relation to a whole range of inter-related issues, from drug dealing, to copper theft, to harassment and anti-social behaviour, two residents undeterred by the alleged associations between a number of local criminals and certain elements within the Police, initiated a series of complaints with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a number of which are still on going.

Teesdale Housing Association’s response has been to deny that any of what has been going on at Red Houses is its responsibility, in the characteristic tone that one would expect from an organization steeped in the corruption and criminality of the previous Blair administration. In a style that epitomizes the arrogance that has infested every arm of local government in the Dale since the demise of former Chair of Durham County Council Andrew Cunningham, and the rise of the late John ‘Kinmont Willy’ Armstrong, the one time self styled uncrowned king of Evenwood and Barony, whose own Council career appears to have been every bit as corrupt as the disgraced father of former Blair Cabinet Enforcer Jack Cunningham, who he himself was to follow as one of the major kingpins at County Hall, Teesdale’s response to its complainants has been as follows:

‘No one named in your complaints is a tenant of Teesdale Housing Association and to the best of our knowledge do not live with any of our tenants. If this was the case we would have worked with our partners to service notices of seeking possession where appropriate. Therefore I cannot uphold your complaint’.

A number of sound recordings of staff members conversations with their tenants currently lodged with Clark Willis Solcitors, Darlington, would appear to indicate that not only were Teesdale Housing Association fully aware of the fact that many of those responsible for the problems on the estate were not only resident at their properties, whether as tenancy holders, sub-tenants or members of their household, but that they were also aware that the same people were also regular visitors at other Teesdale Housing Association owned properties from which many of the previously referred to activities were actually being organized. Of further relevance still, in relation to the Police’s apparent inability to deal with the problem that they themselves had effectively allowed to continue, pretty much uninterrupted for any more than a few short weeks at a time, since the findings of the Parish Council Survey were published in November 2007, is that one of the specific individuals who they had persistently refused to deal with, in relation to certain matters directly related to the previously referred to complaints to the I.P.C.C., was involved in the affray that accompanied two stabbings in a drug related brawl at the local Cricket Club directly adjacent to Red Houses on Boxing Day 2012.

In due course we shall examine the supposed relationship between certain allegedly corrupt elements within the Police and those apparently responsible for the wholesale theft of copper, piping, wiring and boiler equipment from the block at Red Houses at the centre of the current controversy. Interestingly enough, some of what appears to have been stolen seems to have disappeared off the Police log altogether and has become consigned to a strange sort of limbo land in which the Police seem no longer responsible for either ascertaining its current whereabouts, or else attempting to bring about its recovery. The means by which this appears to have occurred seems to have been through the brokering of some sort of mysterious trade off, in which the man charged for the alleged break in at 58 Red Houses, where a boiler appears to have been taken, was only actually charged with effecting illegal entry into the property in order to use the facilities. An apparent case of Virtual Reality Policing with Durham Constabulary, where black is white. red is yellow, and two and two make five….or so the story goes!

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Corruption Busters Durham South West

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Corruption in Planning, Housing, and Policing in County Durham: and its overall effect on both national and local government administration in Post War Britain from 1948 until the present day. A response from Durham to the groundbreaking work of Nigel Ward and his team from Whitby in North Yorkshire.

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