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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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.

A Reinterpretation of the Rules

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For years High Etherley‘s Red House Estate near Bishop Auckland was a crime and disorder black spot renowned throughout the district as a magnet for trouble and anti-social nuisance. Although the hardcore of the troublemakers are just about under control, the situation was only rectified as a result of the activities of one resolute resident: whose gathering of evidence on those responsible for the systematic running down of large areas of the estate, and diligent logging and reporting of the evidence he had gathered to the relevant agencies responsible, was to bring what had amounted to a ten year reign of terror to an end. A fact acknowledged before witnesses by Bishop Auckland Beat Inspector Martin Peace at a meeting between the Police and a pair of somewhat dissatisfied residents at Bishop Auckland Police Station on the afternoon of Tuesday 6th August 2013. A full ten and a half years after a damning report into anti-social behaviour in the village had appeared in the pages of the Teesdale Mercury.

Although the Police can accept at least some responsibility for a state of affairs that has resulted in much needed social housing being systematically run into the ground, most of the blame for what has happened on Red Houses can be laid at the door of Teesdale Housing Association. With the present Coalition Government’s attempts at Welfare Reform requiring people residing in properties that are considered too large for their needs to downsize into smaller dwellings, flats that should be being used for that very purpose are now largely uninhabitable, primarily as a result of what basically amounts to what some would see as  the deliberate waste of large amounts of tax payers’ money on properties that have been allowed to fall into a state of serious disrepair.

The fact that the flats at Red Houses have entered a near state of dereliction in recent years, in spite of large amounts of money having been spent on them as part of the previous Labour Government’s ‘Decent Homes Standard’ refurbishment scheme, is something for which Teesdale Housing Association must accept almost all of the blame. In the years leading up to the last Labour administration’s nationally funded refurbishment of the existing Social Housing stock, which was intended to maintain the viability of vast numbers of homes for a generation, thus perpetuating the habitation of dwellings in a sector that had been systematically starved of cash by previous Conservative governments, a series of important pieces of legislation were put through Parliament to prevent such a situation to begin with. Pieces of legislation that Teesdale Housing Association, and its predecessor, Teesdale District Council, have essentially seen fit to ignore.

These were to include amendments to the Homelessness Act 2002 giving local authorities powers to restrict access to the Housing Waiting List for people with a history of anti-social and criminal behaviour. It has primarily been as a result of Teesdale District Council’s failure to implement or enforce this nationally adopted government policy in the first place, that was to lead to the situation that the estate is currently in to begin with. Of particular significance, in relation to the matters previously referred to above, is the fact that the then Head of Housing at Teesdale, at the time at which these then newly introduced measures were originally supposed to come into force, was former Managing Director of Teesdale Housing Association Peter Slack. An individual who the late Joe Smith, a former District Councillor and member of the Shadow Board that had supervised the change over from Council to Housing Association management, was of the opinion was in some way related to one of the principal criminal families in the village; the Slacks of Red Houses and Witton-le-Wear.

Another member of staff with whose performance the late Councillor Smith was less than happy with, a state of affairs that he was to raise repeatedly with the then Chair of the North Star Housing Group that oversees the ultimate management of Teesdale Housing Association, before the latter’s death and his own retirement from the Council, was former Housing Officer for Red Houses Suzanne Bellas. One of Bellas’s tried and trusted techniques for freeing herself of any responsibility for the conduct of the tenants who she herself had given access to the properties to begin with, and in breach of the Housing Association’s own policies as set out in its Offer Document at the time of the change over from Council to Housing Association control, was to attempt to fool residents into thinking that the agency responsible for enforcement on tenancy agreements was not in fact the Housing Association, as was genuinely the case, but the Police; when nothing could have been further from the truth.

Amongst a series of sound files currently lodged with Clark Willis Law Firm at Darlington, some of which may well turn out be incriminating and to which a number of interested parties have likewise been given access, is an item consisting of a telephone conversation between Bellas and one of her former tenants which was recorded in November 2009, when the anti-social behaviour which has since resulted in the wholesale exodus of tenants from the area of the Estate that has been most run down was still very much on going. The previous year the Local Government Ombudsman had conducted an investigation into the situation on Red Houses and recommended that action be taken against those tenants responsible for causing the trouble to begin with. Amongst those interviewed was a pensioner referred to during the course of the above mentioned conversation, who expressed concerns that the estate at High Etherley was at that time even worse than the one in Sunderland from which he had previously moved some three years earlier. In spite of this, not only was no action taken, but what appears to have amounted to a wholesale cover up of the affair seems to have been implemented by the Housing Association Management Structure, at the highest level, as a means of denying any responsibility for a situation that had been created as a direct result of its own maladministration.

The documents embedded directly below, which were obtained from the local area Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator, attest to the situation on the Estate at the time, and immediately leading up to, when the recording was made; and clearly prove that the allegations at that time being made by the complainant were in no ways without foundation. In spite of this however, a Housing Association survey into Anti-Social Behaviour on the Estate, which had itself been conducted by staff members clearly anxious to restore their own reputations in the wake of the Ombudsman’s less than complimentary report to the then Chief Executive at Teesdale District Council, appears to have deliberately misrepresented the pensioner’s grounds for complaint; in spite of the fact that the complainant in the recording had obtained sound recordings and other hard evidence in line with the findings of the compilers of the Neighbourhood Watch newsletter.

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