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.

Planning for Destruction: Corruption and Criminality in Social Housing

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When former Chair of Durham County Council, Alderman Andrew Cunningham, was jailed for his part in the Poulson Corruption Scandal back in nineteen seventy two, a key factor in the bribes for contracts scam that was eventually to send him to jail had been the so called ‘Category ‘D’ Demolitions policy, initiated by Durham County Council back in the nineteen fifties as part of a professed initiative to improve social housing. In reality, however, a great deal of sturdy well built nineteenth century housing stock, which could have been upgraded and improved for a fraction of the cost that demolition and new build always entails, was designated as unfit for human habitation and subsequently bulldozed instead. And, as one would expect with any scam that had principally been designed to put large sums of money in the top pockets of the councilors and civil servants directly involved in the commissioning of the new build projects intended to provide replacement housing stock for the communities that they supposedly served, much of what was subsequently thrown up to replace the long since flattened terraces that had previously been laid out by conscientious and God fearing Quaker mine owners, whose community minded approach to the work force that they employed is a well known fact of historical record, was little more than sub standard architecturally flawed ‘Jerry Build’.

Interestingly enough, many similar flaws to those known to have been inherent in the County Durham Category ‘D’ initiative, with particular reference to the wholesale reorganization of communities and the lack of proper compensation to those owners and occupiers ultimately destined to lose their homes, were to be built into the system once again in relation to many of the so called ‘Pathfinder Schemes’ initiated by former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott‘s lumbering Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions during the early years of the Blair government. One vital fact in relation to this similarly flawed scheme for supposedly regenerating communities, at vast cost to the tax payer in relation to what was actually provided, is that at the time when much of what Prescott was involved with was actually being implemented and followed through, Tony Blair’s Cabinet ‘Enforcer’, Jack Cunningham, was none other than the son, and ultimate successor, of ex-jailbird and disgraced former Chair of Durham County Council Andrew Cunningham.

In addition to the implementation of the highly controversial Pathfinder Schemes, in which former Northern Rock Chief Executive Leo Finn appears to have played a pivotal role, Prescott’s office were also responsible for the national upgrade of the entire social housing stock as part of the last Labour Government’s ‘decent homes standard’. This considered, it is perhaps significant that in Andrew Cunningham’s native County Durham Teesdale Housing Association appear to have been involved in a similarly corrupt scam of their own every bit as criminal in intention as the one that sent the former Chair of Durham County Council to jail back in nineteen seventy two.

According to the current Chair of Etherley Parish Council, he and his colleagues were informed that Teesdale Housing had planned to demolish a block of twelve flats on High Etherley‘s Red House Estate well before it had taken the funding to have eleven of them fully upgraded. As one would expect with a project of this kind, much of the money spent on the upgrade was to involve the installation of brand new gas fired central heating systems; complete with large quantities of copper piping of a specific quality and quantity to be of particular interest to professional criminals engaged in the kind of wholesale metal theft that has become an every day part of life in contemporary Britain. Given the alleged links between Andrew Cunningham’s one time Criminals’ Mayorality and a number of top level gangland hoods, it should come as little surprise that just over two years on from the 2010 upgrade of 56-67 Red Houses two sections of the block are completely uninhabitable as a direct result of the wholesale stripping of boilers, metal, fixtures and fittings by a network of criminals allegedly linked to a former Head of Housing at T.H.A.

Of further significance still perhaps is the fact that the current Head of Housing at Teesdale Housing Association, Diane Smith, was not only fully aware as early as July 2008 that a number of known criminals, who had been allocated properties in the block in breach of locally adopted housing policies previously implemented by the now defunct Teesdale District Council, were directly involved in the wholesale theft of metals from the surrounding district a full two years before the upgrade, but neither she nor the then Housing Officer responsible for the Red House Estate took any action whatsoever to ensure that tax payers’ money was properly protected. A digital sound file of a discussion between Diane Smith and Suzanne Bellas of T.H.A. in the company of a local resident activist, which took place on 1st July 2008 in relation to the above referred to matters and is currently lodged with Clark Willis Solicitors, Darlington, would appear to constitute incontrovertible evidence that this is indeed the case.

Given the fact that the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service has seen fit not to take any action whatsoever against Teesdale Housing, in spite of the large sums of money that appear to have been deliberately wasted by a number of key players within its management structure, it is perhaps significant that the previously referred to sound file was one of the pieces of hard evidence that the I.H.O.S. refused to look at. In a future posting we shall examine some of the proven links between Teesdale Housing Association and its parent organization Endeavour Housing with Cherie Blair; with particular reference to the legacy of Andrew Cunningham’s Criminals’ Mayorality in the former Bishopric. And, in so doing, we shall present hard evidence of Housing Association Staff providing cover stories for known criminals provably involved in metal theft from the vandalized flats at Red Houses.

A Bias Against the Complainant? Unsubstantiated Allegations Against Tenants Going Unaddressed?

With Swan Housing Association in the media spotlight over the current government investigation into embezzlement of Housing and Communities Agency grant funding, another aspect of the Swan Housing Corruption Scandal that has received somewhat less attention than perhaps it should have done, with particular reference to its dealings with the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service, has been the alleged ability of Swan Housing to make false and unsubstantiated allegations about its tenants which, when eventually proven to be false, it has not so far been forced to acknowledge or even address. Given the fact that housing associations have been granted a wide range of powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 which have the potential to enable them to take out injunctions against tenants who they deem to be troublesome, which can actually result in those tenants being deprived of their liberty, the case of a provably rogue housing association, which has been caught red handed falsifying documents in relation to Homes and Communities Agency Grant funding, but which has effectively escaped censure in relation to false and unsubstantiated allegations about its tenants which were later proven to have been unfounded, is an interesting case for examination indeed.

Given the potential for abuse in such matters, in a situation in which a corrupt housing officer was attempting to have a tenant unlawfully evicted by having them imprisoned, or, in a worse case scenario, having them locked up so that the property at which they resided could be plundered of their personal possessions whilst they themselves were incarcerated in relation to some trumped up charge, the failure of the Independent Housing Ombudsman to provide a proper series of checks and balances in relation to such matters appears to have exposed an unfortunate consequence of the winding up of the now defunct Tenants’ Services Authority in which Tenants Rights have been seriously compromised; as a direct result of what may well be widespread corrupt practice within the system right the way across the board. With housing association staff effectively being given a free rein to fabricate evidence against tenants and falsify documents in relation to grant funding simultaneously, as a direct result of the Housing Ombudsman’s failure to take appropriate action, Grant Shapps’s role in the affair should not go unnoticed: particularly as his own personal business dealings have come under such widespread public scrutiny in relation to some apparent corrupt practice of his own. And, in view of the additional the fact that it was his decision that led to the winding up of the Tenants’ Services Authority in the first place, an organization which had previously kept housing associations on the straight and narrow, it is worth asking the question as to whether or not the entire Social Housing Sector has since potentially been opened up to the possible depradations of organized criminals; both at national and local level.

It is fact that the situation with Swan Housing is not a single isolated incident. It is also fact that in Teesdale in County Durham the area has had an historic link with organized crime operating within local government since the nineteen fifties: a situation that was to result in the jailing of former Chair of Durham County Council, Andrew Cunningham, for his role in the Poulson Corruption Scandal, back in the nineteen seventies. It should therefore come as little or no surprise that Teesdale Housing Association, which succeeded the now defunct Teesdale District Council as the principal provider of  social housing right the way across Teesdale back in 2006, can be proven to have been involved in making similarly false allegations against its tenants when the issue of complaints to the Housing Ombudsman Service has come to the fore. In a recent letter to a serial complainant dispatched in January 2013 the Housing Ombudsman related allegations that had been made about a tenant, in relation to what they are alleged to have said, as if they were actually true; whilst simultaneously making no attempt to investigate the the actuality of what had or hadn’t been said.

‘At a meeting on 5th September 2012 you stated ‘I get what I want,’ the Ombudsman falsely alleged, ‘by constantly harassing, bullying and being a nuisance until I get my own way….that is how I get my own way.’ In reality, however, what had been said during the course of the above related conversation was something entirely different and related to a question that a member of Teesdale Housing Association Staff had asked in relation to another complainant. The member of staff in question had asked why a number of related agencies had successfully managed to sideline an attempt by an old age pensioner, himself a repeat victim of crime, to have a CCTV camera, that he had bought at his own personal expense, installed at the rear of his bungalow to prevent his garden shed from being broken into. What was in fact said related to the accused telling the previously mentioned member of staff that the reason he had managed to get cameras installed at his property related to his ability to use e-mail and other modern methods to communicate with the correct government departments or else expose corruption or general lack of co-operation within those elements responsible for dealing with such matters within the system. A sound recording of what was actually said, to which the Chair of Etherley Parish Council and other interested parties have been given access, is currently lodged with Clark Willis Solicitors, Darlington, and is likely to be referred to a number of other relevant individuals and organizations, both at national and international level, in due course.

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Corruption in Housing: A National Overview

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With the imminent implementation of the much hated ‘Bedroom Tax’ right the way across England, the current situation in the Social Housing Sector has entered the mainstream political dialogue and consciousness on a level largely unseen since the introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme under Margaret Thatcher’s government more than three decades ago. With more attention being given to Welfare Reform, and the Bedroom Tax in particular, by street level political commentators and activists on the Left of the political spectrum at present than to any other legislative development since the much hated Poll Tax of the early nineteen nineties, some of the most significant changes in how social housing in the country is organized, which have taken place in the last few years, have surprisingly gone largely unnoticed. Indeed, in spite of the fact that since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010 constraints upon social landlords generally, which had hitherto forced them to act and to operate within the law, have effectively been almost entirely removed altogether, very little as regards the overall effects of this have found their way into the mainstream media.

One of the principal human agencies responsible for a whole range of changes to the system, which have led to, amongst other things, the winding up of the Tenants’ Services Authority, which, following its replacement by the Housing and Communities Agency in April 2012 had been responsible for, amongst other things, keeping Housing Associations on the straight and narrow, was the controversial Conservative M.P. Grant Shapps, whose business activities in America in particular have led to calls in Parliament for a proper Police investigation.  Amongst the allegations being circulated with regard to what basically amounts to Mr. Shapps’s apparent ‘sharp practice’  in relation to an internet business that he was running under the name of Michael Green, is supposed to have involved what is claimed to have been breach of copyright on a grand scale.

This considered, it is perhaps significant that since the demise of the Tenants’ Services Authority the Homes and Communities Agency have found themselves embroiled in a serious corruption scandal apparently linked to the embezzlement of H.C.A. Grant Funding by Swan Housing. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that Swan Housing have managed to attract controversy to themselves in relation to what is alleged to have been a less than ethical methodology in their business dealings. A valid case in point revolves around what seem to have been a series of interesting, and some would say inappropriate, connections between certain individuals directly involved with Swan Housing and the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service which some complainants have claimed has prevented the latter organization from acting independently. In the next posting we shall examine the wider implications of these allegations, some of which are elaborated upon more fully in the embedded YouTube link below, in considerably greater depth; with particular reference to the South West Durham area.

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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