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.

 

Advertisements

An Interesting Reason as to why I Have No Lights!

MOV01621MOV01622 002

In spite of the fact that Teesdale Housing Association have repeatedly claimed that they have no idea of the whereabouts of general all round nuisance and serial troublemaker Michael Tray, they have not only been given adequate proof as to which properties on Red Houses he has been operating from, by way photographs and video, but have also been given hard evidence that he has been involved in the systematic plundering of electrical wiring and copper piping from the block which he and his associates had previously been able hijack; right under the very noses of Teesdale Housing management and staff.

Evidence that at least some staff members may well have been in some way complicit in aiding and abetting those responsible for driving all but two of the law abiding tenants out of the block, whilst simultaneously allowing the block itself to be rendered largely uninhabitable, is provided a recording currently lodged with Clark Willis Law Firm of Darlington. The recording itself, to which the current Chair of the Parish Council, Peter Ray, along with a number of interested parties have themselves been offered access, consists of a recording of one of the Housing Association’s former joiners attempting to explain to a tenant in residence why it is that he and his fellow tenants have had no lights in the communal areas of the block for several weeks.

According to this explanation, the extinguishing of the lights was supposedly as a result of the copper wire from the central junction box in the communal area in the centre of the block having been removed by contractors working on the Decent Homes Standard upgrade the previous year. In reality however it would have been physically impossible for the lights to have been working for the intermediate period between when the contract work took place, and the point at which they had ceased to function, if the explanation that is given here was in any way correct.

The photographic stills at the top of the page on the other hand provide an altogether better explanation as how the lights had become permanently extinguished at the time this recording was made in the first place, as the video clip from which they were taken clearly shows Michael Tray walking away from the building, in the company of a third party who is also a well known local nuisance, with some of the copper wire that had gone missing in his hand. These facts take the situation out of the realm of science fiction. in which Teesdale Housing Association had previously put it, and into the real the world of crime and disorder into which Red Houses has been plunged since the Housing Association first went against the terms and conditions of their own Offer Document, first presented to tenants at the time of the change over from Council ownership to Housing Association administration, when known criminals with multiple convictions were allowed into block alongside law abiding tenants.

So why would Teesdale Housing Association be so keen to help a professional criminal such as Michael Tray to cover his tracks in the first place, if they were not in some way complicit in what was going on? According to no fewer than four serving or retired former Councillors, Teesdale Housing Association had a hidden agenda to demolish the block from which Tray and his associates were formerly operating long before they took the grant money from Central Government to refurbish the block as part of the Decent Homes Standard regeneration programme. This would appear to suggest that their motivations from the outset were criminal in intent.

Whereabouts Unknown…..?

In the closing months of 2012 a serial complainant resident on Red Houses at High Etherley in County Durham intiated yet another in a series of official written complaints, as a response to letters from the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Homes and Communities Agency, setting out the course of action that they themselves felt to be appropriate in relation to the matters then in dispute between himself and Teesdale Housing Association. During the course of the complaint, and the Panel Hearing that was to follow, Teesdale Housing Association made a variety of claims relating to the whereabouts of serial trouble maker Michael Tray, who had himself been instrumental in the mass exodus of tenants from the last remaining block of flats on Red Houses; that had followed months of anti-social behaviour and nuisance in and around the village in which the estate is situated.

In spite of the fact that, thanks to the previous agitations of this self same serial complainant, the Estate had been declared a so called ‘L.M.A.P.s’, or ‘Local Multi-Agency Partnership Problem Solving Zone’ by elements linked to the local Community Safety Partnership, as far back as October 2011, it would only be in the summer of the following year that Teesdale Housing Association would eventually climb on board. By which time, all but three of the law abiding residents in the block from which much of the anti-social behaviour and all round criminal nuisance was at that time regularly emanating, had themselves been systematically driven out.

The video clip embedded at the top of this posting is intended to demonstrate the kind of regular harassment that residents of the Estate who won’t comply with what the late Joe Smith was to repeatedly refer to as ‘The Mafia’ want on a regular basis. A former District Councillor, Parish Councillor and retired Inspector of Special Constabulary,  who had campaigned vigorously for years in an unsuccessful attempt to get the Estate cleaned up, Joe Smith was not the only person in the village who was of the opinion that many of the problems on the Estate were being micro-managed from inside Teesdale Housing Association itself.

Definite proof of this is provided by Teesdale Housing Association’s repeated written claims that they were unaware of the whereabouts of serial trouble maker Michael Tray, at the time when much of the nuisance that was to drive the majority of residents out of the block in the first place had been initiated by the criminal element to begin with. In fact, as members of L.M.A.P.S. they would have been fully aware of the true facts as regards this, and would have been informed by their other partner agencies that he was in fact residing with one of their very own tenants; and had been provably visiting others on a regular basis. Something that would have meant that they were under a statutory obligation to carry out set procedures of tenancy enforcement that would have nipped the problem in the bud.

The previously referred to video clip embedded at the top of this posting shows the kind of welcoming committee that Michael Tray and his associates would organize regularly for tenants in the block on Red Houses which he and his associates had effectively hijacked as a power base from which to organize their criminal activities; whilst the sound file below, which has been isolated from the clip and digitally enhanced, should give the reader some kind of idea of the level of insult and regular harassment to which the law abiding tenants in the block were themselves to be regularly subjected. Hardly surprising then that there has been a complete exodus from the block in which the criminal element had formerly established itself, in view of the Housing Association’s complete failure to act in an appropriate fashion as regards this.