Situation Still On Going!

Followers of the Bishop Auckland NPT (Neighbourhood Police Team) Twitterfeed in recent months may have noticed the appearance of a tweet that appeared in their browsers on 21st June of this year in which it was announced that the local Toft Hill and High Etherley Beat Sergeant (Sgt Burdess) and her Beat Constable (PC Fenwick) had managed to get themselves up for a local award, along with Chris Clark and Rebecca Sedgwick, as L.M.A.P.s Problem Solving Finalists for 2013. Few if any local residents appear to have been in any way aware of the fact that this ceremony had even taken place, for if they had have been there is every chance that they may have read the news with a not inconsiderable amount of consternation. Especially when it is considered that the Rebecca Sedgewick referred to here is the recently arrived Housing Officer for Red Houses working out of Teesdale Housing Association. The very same organization that was responsible for the creation of the trouble in the first place!

The situation on the local estate at Red Houses for that month, as far as anti-social behaviour was concerned at any rate, was still on going, and had been for several weeks. Indeed, the problem had, in many respects, got even worse than usual; following a visit by local pensioner John Arthur Gibbon Marley to his Member of Parliament, that had taken place at the end of March; and had involved threats, harassment and criminal danage. To make matters even worse still, in spite of the fact that many of the incidents referred to here had not only been rung in to the Police Central Switchboard at Aykley Heads with immediate effect, but sound recordings, photographs and video had also been obtained by residents whilst some of the incidents themselves had actually been taking place, many of them had been deliberately omitted from the NPT’s report to the local Parish Council completely. Why?

The embedded video file at the top of the page shows local teenage nuisance Bradley Fitzgerald, who has been causing trouble in and around Red Houses since at least 2006 when the resident who shot this video first started filming him, causing a nuisance to a local pensioner. The pensioner’s own account of what had been going on is likewise embedded at the bottom of the page in the form of the supplementary sound file. Although the NPT and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office have been directly challenged over this, through the office of the local Member of Parliament, nobody has thus far been able to come up with a proper explanation as to why this should have been so. In the meantime, a dossier of related evidence is currently being compiled and is due to be forwarded to both the Home Secretary herself, as well as to H.M. Inspectorate of Constabulary in the coming months.

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An Interesting Reason as to why I Have No Lights!

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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.

A Consistent Failure to Accept Responsibilty for Anything

The Red House Estate at High Etherley in County Durham has a reputation across the locality for excessive levels of criminality and anti-social behaviour well in excess of the realities of what has been happening on the ground. Regular Community Safety surveys in the largely rural area in which it is located have revealed that fear of crime far outstrips levels of actual crime within the community in terms of its overall impact on local residents. One of the reasons why this is so revolves around the fact that most of the crime that is carried out is the responsibility of a hard core minority of criminal families, whose network of contacts within the power structure has meant that in a large number of cases they have been allowed to continue with what they are doing while the Forces of Law and Order effectively turn a blind eye.

One such individual, who was recently incarcerated, for his part in a serious disturbance that took place in Etherley Cricket Club at the end of 2012, is Michael Dunn, aka Michael Tray. For years Michael Tray has been part of a group of professional criminals and genuine all round nuisances who have controlled much of the low level drug dealing in and around Red Houses. Their involvement in the theft and reselling of scrap metal is also well known. And, in spite of the fact that both he and his oft times dancing partner, Daniel Slack, were caught engaging in those self same activities during the early summer of 2008, offences for which they were subsequently convicted, a situation that should have resulted in legal action being taken against them by Teesdale Housing Association, nothing of any consequence was ever done about it at the time.

The fact that the Housing Association failed to take responsibility for this was to result in a number of other, law abiding, residents being forced to seek alternative accommodation elsewhere; in spite of being the ones who were more often than not in greater housing need than those who appear to have been tormenting them. Again, Susanne Bellas, the former Housing Officer with Teesdale Housing Association responsible for dealing with such matters appears to have been as much to blame as anyone; as a series of  sound files presently lodged with Clark Willis Law Firm of Darlington, consisting of a number of telephone conversations between herself and a resident of Red Houses, who had been suffering continual harassment from Tray for a period of several years at the time that this recording was made, would seem to provide ample testament.

Similarly, the embedded video file at the top of this page  shows the kind of activities in which Tray has been accustomed to indulge for years on Red Houses, with very little to show for it but a handful of largely insignificant harassment warnings which, if anything, only serve to increase his standing amongst the criminal element with which he associates. Whether it be following people around the estate in the fashion that you see here in an attempt to frighten them, or else walking past their living room window staring into their flat, house or bungalow, this is the sort of thing that Tray has been allowed to get away with for years; whilst anybody else would have been punished for it straight away.

So how is it that someone like Tray can have been allowed to get away with what he has clearly been allowed to get away with for so long? Many of the people for whom he has created problems in and around the village where he lives are of the opinion that he has inside knowledge of certain corrupt relationships between certain Police Officers, former Police Officers, and their families who have well established and proven connections with Etherley Cricket Club which can be traced back more than a decade. As to whether or not this is genuinely the case remains to be seen.

A Situation of Utter Denial

Amongst the key pieces of legislation introduced under the previous New Labour administration by the two Home Secretaries perhaps most obsessed with not only talking tough, but actually appearing to be tough at the same time, in relation to Anti-Social Behaviour, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, was the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. Described in the wording of the Act itself as ‘An Act to make provision in connection with anti-social behaviour’, the A.S.B. Act 2003 was to give not only the Police, but also social landlords, a wide range of powers with which to crack down on those involved in the taking, distribution and sale of hard drugs from premises directly located within what remains of the country’s Social Housing stock.

The idea of the Act to begin with, and the principal motivation for its passing into law in the first place, was to create a situation in which housing estates that had become major centres for drug dealing, and the sale and distribution of ‘Crack’ cocaine and heroin in particular, under the previous Conservative administration, could be cleaned up relatively easily without the complex or expensive legal procedures that had previously hampered local administrative bodies of one kind or another during the nineteen eighties and nineties. One of the reasons why it was deemed necessary for such pieces of legislation to be introduced at all was the government’s intention to initiate a country wide upgrading of the Social Housing stock during the second half of the ‘Noughties’, as a means of improving the living standards of huge swathes of the community who it saw as having been left behind by the Thatcher and Major administrations that it had succeeded.

In spite of the best intentions of many of those who were  to serve within the Blair and Brown governments under which this legislation was to be introduced, implemented and originally enforced, in Tony Blair’s own County Durham Constituency back yard of Teesdale in what was formerly the South West Durham Coalfield, none of this legislation appears to have been used at any time during the whole of the last Labour Administration. And, as if that wasn’t enough, many of those who, under normal circumstances, would have been responsible for seeing such matters through appear to have been active in attempting to subvert the will of Parliament directly; for what may well turn out to be their own financial gain.

As we have already noted in an earlier posting in this thread, on High Etherley‘s notorious Red House Estate, the Slack Family and their associates appear to have been able to conduct a campaign of harassment and nuisance in relation to their neighbours and fellow tenants, with complete and utter impunity, for a period of some twenty years. In addition to allegations of some sort of a direct physical relationship between a number of family members and a former Housing Manager with the Housing Association that took over responsibility for the estate from the now defunct Teesdale District Council in 2006, the Housing Association has operated a policy of utter denial whenever it comes to complaints about any of the activities with which the Slacks themselves are known, and can be proven, to have been involved.

Following a series of well ordered written complaints to a number of senior Police Officers within the local power structure of the South Durham Area Command, the Red House Estate was declared a Local Multi-Agency Partnership Problem Solving Zone (L.M.A.P.S. Zone) during the closing months of 2011. Following the initial serving of warrants on key premises on the estate where the kind of activities referred to in the opening paragraphs of this posting can be proven to have been carried out, further raids were conducted in and around the Estate, culminating in the arrival of a veritable convoy of Police vehicles during the course of the evening and night of Wednesday 6th and early hours of the morning of Thursday 7th June 2012.

In spite of this Teesdale Housing Association appear to have taken little or no action at the time of these Police actions, even though, as a member of the so called L.M.A.P.S. Partnership, they were under a statutory obligation to do so. In due course we shall examine these events in more depth and detail. In the mean time it would be sufficient to present evidence that at the centre of these Police operations was a flat at that time occupied by an individual generally referred to as Gareth Slack, whose involvement with the wholesale theft of copper and other metals was well known to Teesdale Housing Association well before they saw fit to install him in the premises to which we refer in the first place.

The edited and embedded video clips at the top of this page show the last of the Police Operations referred to during the course of this posting actually taking place, whilst the photograph below shows the individual generally known as Gareth Slack being arrested by Police in connection with a related matter in the weeks that were to follow. In spite of this, as the extract from a written response from Teesdale Housing Association with regard to a complaint that was submitted to them by one of several disgruntled tenants at the time this was going on clearly shows, the canteen culture of denial that has persisted within the above institution in relation to anything vaguely connected with the Slacks, until those in charge are actually forced to take action by situations such as the campaign of written protest of which this complaint was a part, can still be seen in evidence some several weeks after the events you see here had actually taken place. Why?

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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……