Picture shows : Christopher Weight, Anti Social Behaviour Enforcement Officer. John Harris, Tenant Board Member. Adam Fitzpatrick, Mr Weight’s Manager.
Article published on 5th November 2014
CORNWALL COUNCIL CORRUPTION PART 1
Miss Laura E. Thomas
Mr Peter Jarman, Director of Housing
In 2007 I blew the whistle on child abuse. For 18 months I fought a Police cover-up, Social Services and the Youth Offending Team for better conditions for those children. A thorough Police investigation was finally undertaken though I was never allowed to know the result. I declined my GP’s offer of counselling due to a six month waiting list and have not come across such a concerned and kind GP since. Feeling threatened by the family and angry neighbours who knew too much, I moved in 2009 to a Cornwall Council property in an isolated rural area. This is a truthful and accurate record of my tenant experiences since then.
At the tenancy signing and wanting a fresh start, I was surprised that manager Mrs Angela Morrissey who knew the reason for my move said, “I don’t suppose you’ll become involved with people’s lives again … ”
I replied, “When I see such deprivation, neglect and abuse living so close to me ever again, yes, I will become involved.” Mrs Morrissey, you can put money on it.
If I said that on moving I needed a shower, it may sound amusing but I desperately needed a level access shower property as I was awaiting another big hip operation. For someone in my physical condition, accessing a bath was dangerous. I was pleased with the layout of a viewed up to previously neighbour’s identical property. Mrs Morrissey assured me the property was ‘shower only’, “It must be … it says here, ‘Supply new shower curtain’. After signing and entering, the property contained a shower over a bath.
I was too stunned to be angry. Hours later, in a phone call, Mrs Morrissey, snapped, “Do you realise I could take those keys off you, rip up that tenancy agreement and you’d be left with nothing ?”
Ignoring the threat, I reasoned that no manager could rip up a tenancy agreement on what seemed to be a whim. Building Societies and Banks can repossess your property but in my experience, you are never spoken to like that. My effects were packed and removal van due early next morning. Desperate to move, I calmed Mrs Morrissey down and moved the following day.
Knowing I had been through a lifetime of hip problems and many operations, the child abuse trauma and with high blood pressure and a damaged and enlarged heart, this manager never mentioned the next four years I would spend next door to an aggressive, threatening and abusive neighbour. I have never experienced such bad behaviour in my twenty five years as a home owner.
Mrs Morrissey visited at my request, refusing coffee. “These people have to go somewhere … ” she said. “If they start again, go to the Police. Don’t bother us.”
The investigating local PC left (the neighbour’s) property after a barrage of their shouting and later said, “If they start again, contact the Council. Don’t bother us !”
It helped that I was told this neighbour had a mental illness – she calmed down after being threatened with arrest for harassment. Often seen drunk and disorderly, this tenant was well known to the Police who did little to protect me, a disabled woman living alone.
Neighbours supported my complaints but were understandably hesitant to become involved as it may have blighted their move or disability adaptation requests. Police never took it seriously. I must be clear – my problems were with the behaviour not the mental illness. And this tenant simply did not get the support it was clear they needed.
I got on well with all neighbours though noticed one couple to be rather distant. On that first visit at my property, Mrs Morrissey, enjoyed ‘dishing the dirt’ on a letter of complaint about me. The Data Protection Act affords anonymity to those making malicious complaints.
I was accused of gossiping though Mrs Morrissey refused to tell me what had constituted gossip, about whom or to whom. I was being accused of something but not allowed to know the details! There is nothing wrong with the dictionary definition of gossip – ‘informal chat about persons or social incidents’, apart from ‘groundless rumours’ . Having been the subject of untrue remarks, I am hardly likely to be spreading them. I categorically deny having made groundless remarks and point out that this is a slur on my and similar tenants’ characters.
Mrs Morrissey said something I never forgot. “Don’t speak to people !” she insisted. Feeling this to be silly, I asked her, “Don’t you ever speak to your neighbours ?” She replied with an emphatic, ”No!” I find this to be strange.
Head of Housing, Mrs Jane Barlow’s letter calls me “an alleged offender” which Snr manager Stuart Blackie agreed was “unhelpful.” I got on well with my aggressive next door neighbour for the first six months until they ‘turned’. Some feel that neighbour (s) may have been unsettled that a single woman could, unaided, demand and get a thorough Police investigation of a traumatic subject. It never occurred to anyone that this was not an easy thing for a woman on their own to do. I believe that Mrs Morrissey may well be a very decent person but unfortunately, with bullying tendencies.
A complaint had been made that on one occasion I failed to pick up my dog’s faeces. In thirty years of owning small dogs, I have always been known to pick up my dog’s mess.
At my request, Snr manager Mr Stuart Blackie visited. He accepted coffee and a verbal slap over the wrist for not wearing a tie, admitting this area was used as a “dumping ground” and that people who wanted to come to areas like this were “usually running away from something.”
I spent twelve months worrying as to who could have sent this letter. One of the ‘distant couple’ frightened me by, unseen, jumping out on me from their garden gate and ranting at me. This tenant was physically ill so tolerance was called for. Although I had my suspicions, everyone denied sending the letter.
I pointed out the unacceptability of being harassed by not knowing who had sent this letter or the exact contents. That was when Mr Blackie replied, “Well, I think you managed to work out who it was … ”
“So it was them in number *****” I asked.
I remember Mr Blackie nodded and muttered, “Yes.”
It was very naughty of Stuart to breach these tenants` confidentiality but in so doing, he did me a favour for which I shall always be grateful.
Head of Housing, Mrs Jane Barlow denied in writing that Mr Blackie told me who the letter authors were. It amazes me that someone in a Camborne office thinks they can hear what was said around my dining table many miles away. My relationship with Mrs Barlow has soured somewhat over the years.
There being enough evidence, a local solicitor wrote to these people who had now moved, advising them never to send such a letter to anyone if they had not sent the letter and threatening them with court action if they had written that letter and dared to do it again. An expensive but satisfying result. I shall return to what amount to ‘poison pen letters’ later on.
FOREIGNER DEMANDS AND GETS
At this time, a foreigner and British spouse moved in. Given everything they demanded in the way of home improvements, they then demanded to be moved and were moved, all in the space of twelve months. It makes you think, doesn’t it ?
NEEDS MANAGER NEEDS TO MANAGE TENANTS POLITELY
I was shocked at the sharp and bullying manner of Needs manager Anna Murphy. That lady seemed to have very little idea of the needs of the physically handicapped. She simply could not see the danger in someone with my mobility problems, accessing a bath, insisting, “You can have a stand up wash!” If our orthopaedic problems could be cured with a toilet rail and bathboard, we would not need orthopaedic surgeons.
I had to fight back tears on two occasions in phone calls. Eventually, I wrote asking her never to contact me again. If, as a manager, I had received such a letter, I would have felt a need to ‘smooth things over’, but she never did.
I wrote twice, asking the now promoted to Homechoice Ms Murphy not to allocate properties in isolated areas to those (next door) needing serious help. Council claimed the letters were never received. It was only on the third recorded delivery sent to Mr Blackie that he admitted receiving it. This seemed a definite case of MIMFLIB – Manager in mood filing letters in bin !
It being impossible to access the bath after my impending operation, I applied to have the bath removed and shower base installed. I did not want this cost as I paid nearly £1,000 to have a bath removed and shower installed in my last place. A shower base and making good the tiles would have saved Cornwall Housing money and would have been sufficient for me.
Homechoice had raised my banding from E to D so I was going nowhere fast. My attempts to have my banding raised further opened my eyes to the dubious Homechoice banding decisions.
According to a staff member, the band decision panel consists of “someone who knows a lot about when a baby is separated from its mother … ” and “someone who knows a lot about drug addiction … ” (read that how you will!) and “sometimes we get an ex-Staff Nurse,” (a bit more reassurring). To have any credence, I believe these applications need to be assessed and decided by a retired or part time GP rather than ladies, presumably, with certificates.
Three GP’s letters recommending a move were ignored. The last letter said it was “likely” that the stress I was enduring from risking falling in the bath and next door’s behaviour was causing a deterioration in my health. All letters were ignored by the Homechoice panel and I wonder if tenants realise their letters are a waste of their money.
Very pleasant Occupational Therapists Mrs Deborah Latter and Bonnie Chapman visited re the shower but the waiting list was long which held up my operation date. I asked Mrs Latter exactly how Homechoice worked. She replied, with Ms Chapman as a witness, that she could tell me but the details may upset me. Being already stressed by Cornwall Housing, she felt I did not need any further upset and I declined to hear the details.
Mrs Latter’s letter dated 9th February `12 to Anna Murphy says, “I support a move to a level access property with a level access shower. Miss Thomas has done all she can to expedite a move.” This recommendation was ignored.
I was shocked by Mrs Philippa Mayland, with the strange title, ‘Chair of something East’ . My NHS surgeon is a Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant and RAF Wing Commander. Displeased that after my operation, I would return home to negotiate a bath, he said, “That is not acceptable!” He insisted on writing to Mrs Mayland, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell her !” he said.
I emailed Mrs Mayland that a ‘high flyer’ would be contacting her soon. It is only a sense of humour that kept me and still keeps me going. Before my surgeon could write to Mrs Mayland, she told me she had spoken to him in a “long conversation about my medical condition.” She continued that she had agreed that my surgeon could write to her about me.
Mrs Mayland’s August `11 email to Mrs Barlow’s secretary states, ‘I am waiting for a letter from her consultant who (grammar !) I have spoken to on the phone.’
Council managers must understand they are only admin employees. I was shocked at the arrogance of such an employee, in agreeing to allow a surgeon do anything. I never gave permission for her to ring my surgeon but am told that the Council are within their rights.
My surgeon’s letter to Mrs Mayland states, “Given Miss Thomas’s complicated hip condltion, it would constitute a disaster if she fell in the bath.”
I asked Mrs Mayland why my surgeon’s opinion and recommendations had been ignored. She floored me with, “We don’t have to take any notice of what they say.”
Mrs Barlow’s letter to me of August `11 states,… “The critical (banding) factor is the impact the current housing is having upon that condition and whether on not a move to more suitable housing would have a positive effect on the applicant’s health.”
It is obvious that the impact on my health of not moving could have been a fall in the bath which my surgeon says would have been a “disaster” or a nervous breakdown after next door’s harassment exacerbated by council’s deliberate refusal to apply this legislation. They ignored the obvious fact that living next door to years of threats and harassment will damage anyone’s health.
And they were disinterested that they were holding up my desperately needed hip revision. I doubt whether any of them know the exact details of a hip revision or how it feels to have a hip replacement which was then 33 years old. Most hips are replaced after about 10 years.
Mrs Barlow’s letter continues,
“Mrs Mayland has advised you that Homechoice does not have to take notice of the OT recommendation. ………. `The High Court has held that it is for the council to determine priority in line with its allocation scheme. It is entitled to have regard for the opinion of medical experts …` “The law gives the council the responsibility to make its decision … ”
So there you have it. Council employees ignoring the opinions of Consultants, GP`s and OT`s.
Mrs Mayland failed to see the funny side of the bag of oats I sent her for her high horse. She never thanked me and without mentioning my kind gift, Mrs Mayland’s email to a collegue says, “Her reply was interesting…”
Later, concerning this, a Snr manager told me, “There is such a thing as respect “.
Respect is a two way street and managers’ highhanded attitudes, bullying and reducing tenants to tears is in the gutter of that street. Many will agree that respect has to be earned.
It was only after reading a copy of what I might send to the national press that Mrs Barlow ordered an investigation.
A very pleasant (I admit to an overuse of this term) Snr manager, Mrs Sara Nott visited me. I believe this lady to be quite gifted at what must be difficult situations. Mrs Nott claimed to be ‘independent’ in her investigation, forgetting that she was investigating managers with whom she had worked for many years and with whom she may well have been friends and therefore may not have wished to criticise. This has to be the weakness in this system and is similar to the Police investigating the Police.
No stone was left unturned and Mrs Nott promised to send me a copy of her decision on my complaints. I felt too worn out to face appealing in person to any type of panel. Regarding the compensation I felt more than entitled to, I wrote, as advised by Mrs Nott to Carrick House, Pydar Street, Truro. Apparently, I would hear in 28 days.
Mrs Nott’ s unnumbered ten page report offered me a direct let but without a time frame and contained so many “I find your complaint to be ‘not upheld’ or ‘partially upheld’ and so many “I find your complaint either unjustified or “partly justified” or “neither justified” nor “unjustified” that it was very difficult to understand. She did, however, say that all the complaints Mrs Morrissey dealt with – dog fouling etc were “unsubstantiatied”, Therefore, I am ‘off the hook’ and it is clear that Mrs Morrissey bullied me over unsubstantiated allegations.
The report says Mrs Morrissey found me at fault for not keeping a diary of next door’s harassment, I keep those diaries in my head. They are called memories.
Only certain complaints were dealt with and so this report was incomplete. It contained a threat that if I was ever abusive to any manager, they would refuse contact with me.
I phoned saying that as I had never been abusive to any Council staff then I felt this sentence should be removed. Mrs Nott agreed and sent a revised version without this threat and inference. It is clear that tenants need to challenge such written judgements. And unnumbered pages ? Even school children are told to number their written pages.
After 28 days, Carrick House claimed my compensation letter dated and sent on 5th September was date stamped as received on 18th Sept. I was very distressed to find that compensation is awarded only after an appeal and attendance at the Three Tenant Panel. An appeal had been arranged, against my wishes, for the end of October.
Mrs Nott’s misinformation and inefficiency sent my permanently high blood pressure through the roof. My GP, whose three letters were ignored, prescribed GTN for my chest pains and as I waited for my enforced panel date, I fought not to have a nervous breakdown, heart attack or stroke.
I felt supported at this time by a voluntary and certificated advocate Mr Ray Feltham who was a former Council Executive Board Member. He says he eventually left, the Board, feeling he was a ‘lone voice’.
Copies of all the correspondence from these two years were given to the panelists to study in their own homes over that weekend. There were far too many details to absorb in such a short time and dubious confidentiality with notes in panelists’ homes. How do we know the panelists did not discuss details with neighbours, friends or relatives ?
MR JOHN HARRIS
On the day in October 2012 in Launceston Town Hall and mentioning I felt faint, I was given a small cup of tea after which Mr Feltham and I sat at a long table and were introduced to suited tenant Board Member Mr John Harris (see photo) from Launceston, casually dressed Mrs Angela Bunney (now Martin) from St Mabyn and Mrs Pat Carling all of whom sat opposite. The room smelled like a Costa Coffee House and it was just as well I had taken my own glass and bottle of water because we were offered no more drinks. A tieless Mr Peter Jarman in what looked like, and I am sorry to say it, a creased cheap white shirt sat at the end with Mrs Nott.
I stood and read two sentences from my typed plea when Mr Harris frowned and leaned forward saying angrily, “We’ve read all this before !”
I replied that I had waited two years for this and please would he please let me finish. I read my statement to sit down feeling dizzy and disorientated. At that stage, all I can remember is a bad tempered Mr Harris adamantly insisting to Mr Feltham, “She this….” and “She that….” I felt it to be rude and unacceptable that I was being talked about rather than to but felt it appropriate to keep quiet.
I answered all the panel’s questions and feel it unacceptable that they were allowed to literally stand in judgement on me and decide whether or not I should receive compensation. Although I was told they all or two had congenital medical complaints, I am not convinced they had as many operations or been through my experiences. They may also, never have lived next door to the problems I had to endure.
Mr Feltham and I were told to wait for half an hour, buy our own drinks from a machine and wait for their deliberations and result.
Mrs Bunney’s ominous facial expression told me the verdict. Mr Harris delivered their verdict that a move offer without a time frame was sufficient and no compensation was to be awarded. Mr Jarman and Mrs Nott sat staring at the carpet as though embarrassed.
Mr Harris jabbed his finger snapping aggressively, “You wuz this …. ” and “You wuz that … ” Aggressive rudeness is one thing. Poor grammar is another. Cornwall Housing does itself no favours using such types as Board Members. I find it strange that with such poor grammar, Mr Harris showed off recently that he has gained an Honours Degree, the only sort the Open University awards. Wouldn’t you think someone with a degree could, at least, speak properly ?
I asked the panel if they understood the lifelong stress associated with congenital medical problems. At one point, Mrs Bunney, now Martin, raised her arm and snarled, “Just leave it !”
If this lady had problems with the heat of this subject, maybe she should have stayed out of the medical kitchen. Mrs Carling seemed perfectly reasonable and pleasant. She even prompted me with the text when I became flustered while reading my statement. Later, however, she did snap at me on one occasion.
I promised them that this farcical hearing would go online. As we left, Mr Jarman and Mrs Nott looked embarrased and remained silent.
On driving home, Mr Feltham said that Mr Harris had tried to intimidate me and the panel had not listened to us, anyway. It added insult to injury that the panel were paid travel expenses to say nothing of free coffee while we were not. I do not wish to be too specific about how I felt that evening.
It is not a good idea to allow people with poor grammar to stand in judgement on others. This may be allowed with a jury in a court of law but I was not the accused, even though I had been made to feel like a criminal. These panels should be disbanded.
Around this time, my aggressive next door neighbour who did not walk on a stick, had the bath removed and a level access shower installed. Their partner having moved out, they were now living alone in a spacious 2 bedroom property.
The day Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, like many, next door had a late night party. On asking them to stop the ‘thud thud’ music at 4.40 am, next door’s adult child chased me down their garden path, pinning me up against their fence, yelling foul invective into my face. What they were going to do to me sexually is not to be repeated here. Very unpleasant and frightening. The neighbour had an excuse for their behaviour – the adult child did not.
Later, next door threatened to kill my small, frail, ageing rescue dog whom I had had for thirteen years. My dog died a week later. A kind neighbour buried her. After this threat, a local female PCSO was sent to see I was ‘OK’. Knowing of next door’s condition, this PCSO snapped, criticising me for calling next door mentally ill and seemed amused at the threat to my dog. I have never seen the Police in a favourable light since. It made me feel she was protecting next door.
PRESSING ON WITH REPORTERS
In November 2011, a reporter at the Cornish Times listened to all my Council complaints saying, “I am defnitely going to run this story !” and that they would email the manager of Cornwall Council Communications Unit whom they claimed to know. This reporter did not contact me again, later claiming computer glitches for not emailing the Council.
Later, a reporter from the Cornish and Devon Post agreed to contact the Council Comms Unit re my complaints about Anna Murphy. That journalist insisted he phoned the Comms Unit “several or a couple of times”.
MRS PATRICA HEWITT
I remember saying to Ms Murphy, “You won’t be so sure of yourself when a reporter rings.” Her voice faltered as she admitted quietly that a reporter “has already rung.” She had referred him to the Comms Unit. Manager Mrs Patricia Hewitt’s 6th July 2012 letter jumps off the page with anger as she insists to ”taking enquiries very seriously” and ”the reporter says he has no record of any email or note of phone conversation with the Comms Unit.” She ends, “Both journalists have confirmed that they cannot provide any evidence of requests made to the Council”.
It makes sense that someone, somewhere, told the Comms Unit and or the reporters to bin anything with my name on it or Council Comms Unit is just extremely inefficient.”
I remember well in a phone call at that time, Mrs Hewitt insisting, “I will NOT be called a liar.” No one called you a liar, Mrs Hewitt but this whole episode never added up. Incidentally, I won’t be called a liar, either. It seems the Police aren’t alone in doing cover-ups when its suits them.
I let the dust settle and asked this reporter at the Cornish and Devon Post to contact the Comms Unit again. On 25th July, in a phone call, he finally made contact with the Comms Unit. He told me, “The Council said it was not their policy to comment on individual problems.” The Comms Unit fobbed off a young reporter. He agreed to print something but I replied that I would prefer to do my own online report.
LOVELY WEATHER, SHAME ABOUT THE ATMOSPHERE
Even after Police cautions for next door, time in the back garden in those three summers was ruined by next door’s loud, foulmouthed, drunken and prolonged yelling into their mobile and tense atmosphere.
THE BOUNCING CHEQUE
Pondering my rights in late 2012, I paid a local solicitor £150 for a one hour fixed fee appointment. The secretary asked and was told the nature of the appointment. After hearing my Council complaints, this solicitor said, “I don’t know what you expect this firm to do for you … ”
My reply that I thought they might know about the law relating to councils was met with silence. On asking where I stood regarding various points of law, this solicitor shrugged their shoulders and suggested the Ombudsman.
“Anyone in the street could have told me that,” I suggested. Later, I wrote asking for a full refund. A week later, I received exactly that.
My complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman late 2012 was answered in March’ 13 by Ms Victoria Miles. I skim read it and like Sara Nott’s report, it was difficult to read. Awarding no compensation, it contained so many negative phrases that I filed it away. My system shut down for a couple of days. I have been too upset since to concentrate on it and admit to a bit of a mental blockage about it. I feel now that any Ombudsman leans in favour of the complained about organisation rather than the complainant. Others say that is a fact.
Ms Miles wrote to Mr Simon Mansell, Principal Legal Officer at Cornwall Housing about my shower/bath and low banding problems. In his letter 25th Feb’ 13 Mr Mansell says, “The final assessment included details from Ms Thomas’s consultant but the banding remained the same.” This gives the impression that Homechoice already knew the Ombudsman would fall in line with them.
Ms Miles’s report says that as ‘Ms X’, my personal complaint details may be reported online. Therefore, I have no compunction in broadcasting my complaints about Cornwall Housing online.
A NEW NEIGHBOUR
My new next door neighbour on the other side moved in with no cooking facilities, a bed, a chair and no more than a cupboard full of dried pasta. They admitted to having untreated mental illness, problems with hearing and sight, feeling unwell and confused, stockpiling tablets, self medicating on alcohol and refusing to register with a doctor or have social services or “anyone to the house”. They did, however admit to needing help with bill paying.
Having worked years ago as a civilian volunteer for the Salvation Army and ignoring Mrs Morrissey’s emphatic “DON’T get involved !”, I helped them generally to survive and reported this sad state of affairs to Mrs Barlow in a letter early the following year. I have so many letters, I cannot find the reply but nothing was done. I found ‘Care Direct’, a scheme existing to help vulnerable persons referred by concerned tenants. This was just what I needed. I learned that this scheme did not operate in that area.
Eventually, after nagging Cornwall Housing, a very pleasant female manager whom I feel it best to leave unnamed, visited this tenant fortnightly. I got on well with this tenant and although the unsatisfactory domestic conditions remained the same, at least I was not dealing with it alone. Like the other tenant, nothing was done to help either of them.
Such tenants need to request help from Social Services and may refuse offered help anyway.
Around this time, the penny dropped that if I accepted a level access shower installation, my needs would be met and I would have to endure next door’s harassment for the rest of my life. If my banding was not to be raised then I could not see a move to be feasible.
POTATO GUN OWNER WITH CHIPS ON SHOULDER
Four months after this tenant moved in, the tenant on the other side moved out. I thought I had peace at last. That was when the new tenant showed me a home made but substantial looking potato gun, claiming, “It could bring down a helicopter”. As I wondered what type would want to do such a thing, I was shown how it worked. It fires small potatoes, small stones and scraps of metal and although legal without a licence, it seems dangerous to allow mentally ill and often drunk persons to keep them.
Firing small potatoes at someone may sound amusing. Metals scraps fired into persons` eyes is not. The tenant claimed to have a revolver without a licence or bullets but I did not ask to see it.
This tenant, now being often surly and drunk, I reported the guns to the local Police. A five minute visit by a PC and all was smoothed over. The revolver could not be found so it did not exist. The potato gun was legal and that was that.
This tenant’s plan to grow cannabis at the end of disused nearby Council gardens never came to fruition but only because a neighbour voiced an objection. I never doubted this tenant’s horticultural ability as they convinced me they had done it very successfully in their previously owned and isolated garden. Managers were disinterested.
A letter about this and the guns to Mr Simon JR Mansell MBE, Principal Legal Officer, went unanswered. Mr Mansell might want to pay some attention to his correspondence presentation. Underlining your name in bold type is unnecessary and looks rather schoolboyish.
MR SIMON JR MANSELL MBE
Around this time, I decided to get a grip and hear OT Mrs Latter’s explanation of how Homechoice works whether it upset me or not. After a few messages taken, she returned my call. She insisted, even with a witness present that she had not offered to give this explanation. When pressed, she declared vehemently, “I am NOT getting involved with Homechoice !”
Realising there was no more to be said, I thanked her and finished the call. Over the years far too many managers have denied making previous remarks. It is not only insulting but upsetting.
THE MANY WHO CANNOT FIGHT
At my request, very pleasant manager, Elaine Bennett visited me. Worn down by the Council’s often obscure letters and seeming inability to deal with my complaints, I muttered, “I’m fed up with fighting the Council…”
I have never forgotten her enlightening reply which has sustained me ever since. She said, “You’re lucky you can fight. Many can’t !”
I am always mindful of those tenants who do not seem to have a voice.
TAXPAYERS SOFTSOAPED IN SHOWER/BATH SCANDAL
Before three new tenants moved into the vacant property next door, the Council removed the only months old shower and intalled … a new bath.
A few months later, these tenants did ‘a moonlight flit’. How much do you want to bet that the bath was removed and a shower installed for the incoming tenant? Cornwall Housing seem talented at wasting money. Your money.
RUMOURS OF COUNCIL BACKHANDERS ? FANCY SUGGESTING THAT !
One neighbour had three vehicles on three rough plots of land / parking spaces in the confined space near our properties. When one vehicle was sold, I applied to rent this plot thinking it would make a sunny spot for sitting in, away from next door’s harassment.
I filled in and returned Council forms and heard no more. There were rumours that this tenant had paid a backhander to the council and was not paying plot rent anyway. This may well be untrue but isn’t it strange that one tenant is allowed three vehicles on three plots of land while I am stopped from the chance of having even one ? My mobility problems worsened and another gardening plot became impractical.
A HALF CUT GARDEN PARTY
Next door palled up with a new neighbour. They would sit in next door’s front garden, spitting aggressive, drunken and often sexual abuse as I clipped my front grass. It always amazes me how foul mouthed and rough some females can be. Sometimes they are more aggressive than the males. This may have been because a single woman on a stick is easier to bully than a rough, foul mouthed couple.
Mr Matthew Gallagher is the only male Council manager I have met who was smartly dressed. Immaculate. Other managers take note. However, at my property, he seemed very unsure about the above situation. On investigating the new couple’s behaviour, leadless dogs and constant bonfires, Mr Gallagher chose to believe these very aggressive people who claimed, in his letter, that I had called them ”trailer trash”.
I did no such thing and certainly never used any adjectives to describe them though I do so, now. I write online novels and detest Americanisms. Why, therefore would I want to use an Americanism ? These people showed themselves to be rough, foul mouthed, aggressive and intimidating and most of us gave them a wide berth but I would not call them ‘trailer trash’. I hope it is clear that managers can, and often do, exacerbate neighbour disputes rather than resolve or pacify them.
By this time, Mrs Morrissey, Murphy and Mayland had all left Council employment. I was relieved but this does not excuse them.
Eighteen months after the decision to rehouse me, Stuart Blackie found me a level access shower property. I am told he ”went out on a limb” to rehouse me. My operation was now not far away. I made a mental note to buy him a silk tie for Christmas.
Shortly before moving, whilst driving on the A39, I had warning hip muscle pains and pulled in to try, tentatively, to walk off what I knew could escalate to a dreaded and unbearable screaming session. Steering a vehicle on the road in this condition would be impossible and I knew this could result in a multiple pile up and maybe deaths.
The second time I pulled in to a layby and, with one leg in the car and one foot touching the gravel, I tried to get out of the car. The overwhelming pain started and I screamed uncontrollably. The pain is always frightening. With cars whizzing past feet from me, I managed to hit the horn with my elbow. I am very lucky that as the pain subsided and as I struggled to get out of my car, a concerned couple pulled in to help me. As I apologised for inconveniencing them, my mobile, in the boot, went off and bent almost double, I panicked to answer it. It was Stuart Blackie. Breathless, I explained the current situation. He said, “Laura, I feel your pain.”
“No, you don’t !” I replied rather demonstratively.
My neighbours who came to pick me up, laid me full length in the back of their car and drove me home. Stuart, you may have meant well, but it was the wrong phrase at the time. It often makes me chuckle.
CAR KEYED IN GRUDGE ATTACK
My legs have packed up and temporarily unable to get into my car, the Mobility people have made arrangements for my car to be adapted to handcontrols. I will always be very grateful for how smoothly and quickly this was done. No one owes you anything in this world.
Carless, I am hauled onto a bus by the driver and it being too uncomfortable to sit, I stand all the way to Tesco and return three hours later, cheek pecking the driver who helped me off. I am surviving. I push all the unpleasantness with next door away. That evening, as I force myself and a bucket of water outside to clean my car, I see a five feet long scratch keyed into the driver’s side. Those three hours in a quiet, narrow, back lane gave the culprit plenty of time to work unnoticed.
The Police visit with an incident number, agreeing it was probably next door’s grudge attack in response to the gun reporting. Nothing could be proved so no action was taken. The moral is clear: When you bust a gut taking someone everywhere by car and helping them survive – just accept that they may well bite the hand that fed them. And do the dirty on you.
Days later, as I am packing, I deal with the flood in my kitchen caused by a previous neighbour’s dodgy plumbing and thank God for the fabulous neighbours who, ankle deep in water, stop the alarming gush from under my sink.
Weeks later, we exchanged presents and I was very sad to be leaving these neighbours who have dried my tears and propped me up over the past four years.
SEEING RED ? NO, JUST IN THE RED
Mrs Barlow, Head of Housing saw fit not to pay my moving expenses. The bank saved my skin by agreeing to an overdraft. I could not have moved without that, my first overdraft and would spend the next year going nowhere and doing nothing in order to pay it off as quickly as possible. Such is life.
NEXT DOOR BIDS ME FAREWELL
The evening before I moved as I piled my car with boxes, I noticed a large cardboard sign nailed to next door’s fence. Scrawled in large red felt pen were the words:
GOOD RIDDANCEYOU BACKSTABBING BITCH
As I struggled to remove it, the tenant saw me and roaring like a mad bull, tore out of their kitchen towards me. I was terrified. They pulled the sign away from me, shouting, “I’m gunna find out where you live, go down there and tell everyone what you’re like !”
Perhaps I should be grateful they did not fire the potato gun at me.
I doubt any managers reprimanded this tenant; they may well have been intimidated by the build and volatile tendencies. I can understand managers’ reluctance to become involved with such tenants but this leaves the victim unprotected. I shall discuss Antisocial Behaviour Officers and their methods shortly.
I was not sorry to be leaving this property and what I felt amounted to four miserable, joyless and enervating years. The future, however, was bound to be better. Tomorrow was moving day.
Moving day, 1st August 2013 and I am grateful for my capable van men. Sweeping and overseeing carpet removal and leaving the property in the condition Cornwall Housing is more than entitled to expect is more than someone in my physical condition can be reasonably expected to manage. However, after eight owned house moves, including one abroad and a few rented moves in fitter physical circumstances, I cannot say I am unfamiliar with this process. Gritting teeth and getting on with it are second nature.
My new property is accessed down a walkway between two neighbours’ fences and so not visible from the road. At the viewing stage, some of the neighbours were welcoming and here it comes again, very pleasant. The fun starts as, with the second van man and I in the front passenger seat, we drive into the narrow entrance of the 13 property cul de sac, parking very neatly, obstructing no exits and with room for passing vehicles if they drive up gently on part of the pavement for about 12 feet. The van will be there to unload for half an hour.
As we stop, an angry, arm waving male driver swears at us, as behind us, he enters the cul de sac, shooting up onto the pavement opposite and passing us still yelling. By rushing onto the pavement he claims to have damaged his car’s exhaust. My driver tells me that if this driver had mounted the pavement quietly, he would not have damaged his exhaust which is not scraping the road anyway. Jolly good start, I feel.
We unload. I will dispense with.the sense of shock and disorientation home movers often experience on moving day. By 4.20pm and van and van men gone, I sit among boxes on a gouged and ruched up composition floor and stare.
Two hours later, a new neighbour asks me move my car which is in their space. No problem I think. But this is where I walk into the fire.
Mr Exhaust stands in his front garden, arms folded across his chest staring while I reverse slowly and carefully, in an unfamiliar area, into a 2 and 1/2 ft high concrete post which is not visible in my rear view mirror. There is only a quiet bump and I get out to check. There is no scratch on my car though Mr Exhaust, ten feet away is still staring.
“Instead of staring, you could have guided me in,” I suggest. He is still confrontational about where my van was parked and does not like me saying that moving is difficult for everyone and perhaps he needs to show tolerance in such circumstances. Months later, a manager says that the van was considerately parked in the only place it could be parked. Mr Exhaust tells me I need to learn tolerance. As I turn away, he insists “A letter is going in about this !”
I am too busy to be upset.
I soon forget about Mr Exhaust as all the neighbours are wonderful. A very competent neighbour Mr DIYer is soon snagging and helping with emulsioning. Both ladies next door are friendly and seem more than decent types. I am not proud that the only thing I can grow in my garden is tired. One lady has, what seems to me, a beautiful show garden and another lady agrees to do housework on a paid basis after I return home from my forthcoming operation.
One lady farther down invites me in for coffee. Mrs Coffee is very friendly with Mrs Showgarden. Needing to off load such unresolved conflict, I tell her and Mrs Showgarden about my time with the child abuse issues followed by being sandwiched between two harassing and frightening neighbours in my last property. They show no sign of feeling uncomfortable with these issues for which I never received counselling or any sort of closure.
One seems to understand, admitting having had dealings with Social Services decades previously. They also admit to having years of harassment from a mentally ill previous neighbour. I feel these neighbours understand and compensate in some way for four years of harassment and misery in the last place.
At the beginning of October and feeling positive, I invite my proofreader friend to dinner one evening. Proofreaders, spot and correct your spelling and typo errors, they tut as requested, pointing out convoluted sentences, purple prose and rambling paragraphs. In short, they make writers looks more erudite and well, better than we really are.
PAPERBACK WRITER SHELVED BY NEIGHBOURS
On 2nd October I ask Mrs Showgarden if she wouldn’t mind turning her loud TV down a tad for a couple of hours that night. I want her to be able to hear her TV but I also want to be able to hear my dinner guest who will be discussing the technicalities of putting a novel online. It’s a bit more involved than it sounds.
I am invited in and expect, “Of course. Have a lovely evening … !”
My brick of a neighbour is aghast. Counting slowly and theatrically to ten she says, “You’ve only been here five minutes and you’re telling people how to live their lives !”
How can a quiet, polite request be taken as a command ? Clearly unhappy, she mutters, “How dare you ? How dare you ? as I leave. I am shattered that such a good neighbour can change so suddenly and that the relationship seems to be over. Oddly enough, at dinner that night, her TV seems to be off and the volume has been much lower ever since.
My bathroom window is feet from her front door and on Saturday, 5th October as I come out of the shower, I hear her talking outside her front door to an unrecognised female. They are talking about my TV volume request. I hear, “I said, How dare you ? How dare you ? as she left.”
Unable to see the other person and always having regretted it, I called out, “Don’t listen to her!” Hair damp, I dress quickly and go around to Mrs Showgarden’s gate where she and Mrs coffee now stand.
I say, ‘” Morning Mrs Coffee’s Christian name, could I have a word ?”
Mrs Coffee puffs out her chest and jabs her finger at me, “We know all about you. You’re only here because you caused so much trouble in the last place. You’ve caused trouble everywhere you’ve been … ” Then with a satisfied smirk she finishes, emphasising, “You’re a troublemaker !”
I was here for no other reason than desperately needing a level access shower for my impending operation. Shocked and remembering Potato Gun’s promise to “go down there and tell them what you’re like … ” I ask, “Who told you all this … a neighbour I suppose ?”
Mrs Coffee draws herself up, smirks again, replying, ”No, a higher authority.” Then she stresses, “The Council !
After all those letter, emails and meetings, the Council had seen fit to rubbish me behind my back to a neighbour. Stunned, I walk away to hear Mrs Showgarden say, “That’s right, now go back to the Council !” What else did they think I was going to do ?
CONFUSED IN COVENTRY
The surprises were not over. That afternoon as I walk into the cul de sac, I call out and wave to the always friendly Mr DIYer high up, attaching Mrs Showgarden’s new shed roof. He looks straight at me then turns his head, deliberately ignoring me. I call out and wave again and he repeats this.
Shortly after, I say Hi to the very pleasant Mrs Housework. She seems afraid and backs away. Asking what is the problem, she says, “I can’t get involved … ” and runs away from me into her front garden. I am told Mrs Showgarden and Housework spent four years ignoring each other. So now they’re blanking me. I find it all very childish.
My phone call to Stuart Blackie asking who has called me a ‘trouble maker’ produces, “Well, it wasn’t me… ” Stuart’s investigation generated Mrs Barlow’s 21st October letter to me which was helpfully addressed to and sent to the tenant a few doors down who opened and denied reading it, then pushed it through my letter box. Well done, Mr Barlow.
Her letter states: “We are satisfied there was not a breach of information from Cornwall Housing staff … ” and unbelievably, “We are confident that neither party (Mrs Coffee and Showgarden) is aware of any of your previous tenancy history … ” She seems to be referring to the child abuse and thuggish neighbours in last the place. I hope the frustration of having someone in a Camborne office passing judgement on events they know nothing about near Liskeard are evident.
A WEIGHT ON MY MIND
MR CHRISTOPHER WEIGHT
Having been fobbed off again and seeing a photograph in the Cornwall Housing News magazine, I called in Antisocial Behaviour Enforcement Officer, Mr Christopher Weight (see photo). I should point out that this unfortunate job title may give the impression that such employees are there to enforce antisocial behaviour.
On 13th November, at my request a very pleasant Mr Weight visited, offered to remove his shoes to save my new carpet and accepted coffee. Hearing the above, he was sure that Cornwall Housing had not made any derogatory remarks about me saying, “Tenants often repeat remarks they say they have heard Council make. It makes them feel important.” He added, surprisingly, that if anyone at the Council had made those remarks, it was, in his opinion, most likely to have been “Angie Morrissey”. Who would have thought it ?
I told him all about the misery I had been through with child abuse and he insisted that in reporting it to the Police, I had only done “what any right minded person would do.”
Regarding my last very quiet address, he said, “There has always been trouble in that area.” This seems to clarify matters as the slant of Housing managers’ letters regarding my complaints would lead one to believe I was the cause of this trouble.
He assured me he would “get to the bottom of this” feeling it was caused by what he called the neighbours’ “narrow minded village mentality.” He told me he was an ex council rent/debt collector. I had confidence in him and he promised to get back to me.
On asking for a contact number, he gave me a card with his name, phone number and address ‘Rosevallon’, Bodmin Road, Bodmin. This sounds like a home address which would have been very unwise to make known to a tenant. He left. A tiny mental blockage must have shifted somewhere because my diary records that for the first time in 12 months, a cookery fanatic like me “made a Victoria sponge.”
On 21st November, after leaving messages, Mr Weight returned my calls. I was shocked that he believed whatever Mrs Coffee and Mrs Showgarden had told him. Saying he would write, Mr Weight did not seem to have believed a word I have said.
I am a weddings and funerals churchgoer only but feeling totally hopeless and in need of support, I rifled through a church magazine and rang the local vicar, Rev Tony Stephens of St Paul’s Church, Upton Cross who sent around two trained, church going pastoral workers. They did not become involved but were wonderful at a time when I needed support. Every single person in that congregation was lovely to me. I feel there is very little wrong with the Christian Church in this country when a congregation can reach out and help a stranger who admits to being not much of a church goer.
I wish to thank the wonderful neighbours in Carnedon who have helped me through this.
THE THREAT OF EVICTION
I had no idea things could get worse and days later, received Mr Weight’s letter threatening me with eviction. The shock was severe. There were no grounds to evict me but that did not stop Mr Weight.
It is in Mr Weight’s letter that Mrs Barlow, in her 21st October letter, is made to look ridiculous. Her letter insisted Mrs Coffee and Mrs Showgarden knew nothing of my previous tenancy yet Mr Weight’s letter states that I “regaled Mrs (Coffee) and (Showgarden) with details of child abuse and mentally ill tenants … ” which was thought to be “inappropriate”. So I have it in writing that these two tenants told one story to Mr Stuart Blackie and the opposite to Mr Weight.
Regarding the child abuse and previous next door neighbour problems, I recounted to them my dealings with the local Police and Council’s failure to deal with my neighbours’ behaviour. I recounted nothing of a delicate or sensitive nature. Both these ladies seemed very streetwise and any suggestion of feeling uncomfortable are ludicrous. Considering their dealings with Social Services and suffering a previous neighbour`s mental illness induced antisocial behaviour, one might have expected empathy. Instead, they turned on me.
Mr Weight’s letter states that Mrs (Coffee) denied saying ‘the trouble maker’ remarks were made by a ‘higher authority’ and told Mr Weight that the ‘higher authority’ was me. I am not a higher authority – I am an ordinary person.
Mrs Coffee claimed that the ‘trouble making’ remarks were her opinion of me. Shame she never mentioned it to me in her lounge.
To reiterate: If I come across such child neglect, deprivation and abuse ever again – I will report it and be pleased to be called a ‘trouble maker’. It will always disgust me that neighbours knew about and ignored the plight of those children.
The eviction threat letter states that Mr Weight found these two neighbours’ evidence “to be compelling.” He never states why mine should have been less compelling and it becomes obvious that such managers appoint themselves as ‘Judge and Jury’. Cornwall Council is oblivious to the damage such ill conducted investigations can cause.
Desperate to uncover what was going on, it occurred to me that Mr Weight’s notes made during visits to my and my neighbours’ homes may throw light on exactly what was said. I texted Mr Weight asking to see copies of those notes.
His text reply on 28th November `13 which I still have, states exactly as received :
Dear Ms Thomas Thankyou for your text, my notes are confidential and not for your scrutiny the ombudsman can request them independently along with MY SUBSTANCIAL LIST OF SUPPORTING WITNESSES yours sincerely Mr C Weight.
Stuart Blackie told me in a phone call that though there were no witnesses to this twenty second spat outside Mrs Showgarden’ s gate, the witnesses referred to are people prepared to support all Mrs Showgarden and Mrs Coffee’s criticisms of me. I cross Stuart and the silk tie off my Christmas list.
I have enlarged the above words for clarity and, Mr Weight’s poor spelling apart, now have to wonder who are these people and just what on earth is going on? Mr Weight as gamekeeper, seems to have turned poacher and is encouraging the very tenant antisocial behaviour from which he is paid to protect us.
Weeks later, a GP whom I have never met said I was ”traumatised by the child abuse episode” and gave me a number for counselling. She seemed oblivious to the fact that ‘substantial lists’ of unknown people lining up to criticise me may cause grief but never the less, I was grateful. I found and studied the detailed four appointment counselling handbook online. I decided it was far too basic – ‘eat properly … no drugs, take exercise’ etc. It said that eventually, we have to resolve our own problems. I decided I would do just that and cancelled the appointments.
I wrote to the Ombudsman on 19th December forgetting that the established Council procedure is to have judgement from a senior manager then, if still dissatisfied, to attend another Three Tenant Panel hearing. Only then will the Ombudsman, Mr Andrew Steen who sounded about 22 on the phone, be able to give a result. I now have to wrestle with the thought of going in front of that panel again! Amusingly, Mr Steen admitted to being a private tenant and read Mr Weight’s eviction letter threat. When I asked if he would have liked to have received such a letter, he tittered and said, ”No !”
After Christmas I made an appointment for Mr Weight’s manager, Mr Adam Fitzpatrick (see photo) to visit me sort out this unbelievable situation.
RED SOCKS, MORE SHOCKS AND I LOSE IT
On 2nd January this year, Mr Fitzpatrick arrived tieless and having offered to remove his shoes in deference to my new carpet, refuses coffee with a suited and tieed Mr Matthew Clemens. It was nice to think someone knew how to dress appropriately on tenant visits.
Neither manager felt Mr Weight was in the wrong to have sent the eviction letter. Well after over an hour of being stonewalled, I felt thoroughly dejected. I reminded both of them that I was the victim in all this – with lying neighbours, allegations of defamatory remarks and now Mr Weight’s ‘substantial list’.
Mr Clemens replied, “You started out as the victim but now you’re the perpetrator !”
Stunned, I asked what I had done to deserve such a title; the dictionary definition being a criminal or wrong doer. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Mr Fitzpatrick answered, “You’ve criticised the Council and you’ve criticised the neighbours !”
Do you know anyone who doesn’t occasionally criticise the Council or their neighbours ? Any neighbour criticisms would be Mrs Coffee and Showgarden telling lies to the Council re the ‘troublemaker’ remarks and being upset at being ‘sent to Coventry’ by Mr DIYer and Mrs Housework. I knew only a few people in that area but was criticised for, as I saw it, standing up for myself.
Later, Mr Fitzpatrick would claim that the meeting went well but for me it began to feel like a visit from two Kremlin Officials. I felt like a criminal who knew they stood no chance of justice.
The people on the ‘substantial list’ were to be given anonymity under the Data Protection Act and I was never going to be allowed to know who had alleged what about me. Just like my last property. I must point out that in order to defend themselves, criminals are, at least, informed of the accusations against them, but I was not to be allowed this. There seemed and still seems to be something of the Monty Pythons in all this.
At this point, Mr Fitzpatrick asked me where my family was. Heaven knows why. I replied that I had no family. I recounted that I had a sibling whom I shall probably never see again. My beloved brother-in-law died in the previous year. I was not informed of his death so I could not attend the funeral. Some of us older Brits are famous for a ‘stiff upper lip’ but at that point, mentioning his death and the past seven years of unresolved misery all welled up and I became angry. I remember banging my fist on my dining table in sheer frustration and when I started to cry – I lost it.
I shouted, “Get out !” Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr Clemens were a bit slow to move so I shouted it again. I accept this may sound amusing. Having taken off their shoes, they stood just inside my front door seeming a bit bewildered. I was so upset at their hesitation that I bent, grabbed their shoes and threw them out of my front door yelling, “Get out and never come back !” I have a vague memory of swearing at them.
I immediately phoned Stuart Blackie who answered his office landline. He had no opportunity to say anything as I ranted hysterically about the past four years. Then, saying “Thankyou,” politely, I put the phone down. At this point, I realised I needed help. I made an appointment to see my doctor. I was shocked that a scruff in a cheap, shiny, black fashion jacket and red socks could drag me so low.
That evening, I emailed Mr Fitzpatrick and apologised for my behaviour. That is what well brought up persons with standards do – even when they feel the other person may have been in the wrong. Mr Fitzpatrick emailed accepting my apology. And I am still waiting for his.
WEIGHTED DOWN BY WEIGHTGATE
I see my very pleasant doctor on 15th January. I show him the ‘substantial list’ text, say I can no longer cope with this situation and he agrees to ring Mr Weight whom I presume, will grovel an apology for upsetting his patient and all will be well .
On 22nd January, I am stunned again when my GP phones to say that Mr Weight says I am paranoid.
On 23rd January, I receive a text from Stuart Blackie that regarding my wish to have Rev Stephens attend any future meetings with managers :
“………I will pass on the offer from the Minister to attend, if needed and deemed necessary by whoever complete the Stage 2 review. ,Stuart.”
So the always pleasant Stuart Blackie thinks it appropriate for a council employee to give permission for my local vicar to attend and support me at a meeting at my property. This reminds me of Philippa Mayland giving my orthopaedic surgeon permission to write to her.
On 6th February, a hospital phone call says I am being operated on shortly. Snr manager Mr Mark Vinson phones. I can do without being asked to send another packet of letters and emails to him. I wonder why he cannot obtain them from his staff but I do it.
On 11th February, my surgery phones wanting another letter concerning Weightgate from me immediately, which I have to type and deliver same day. At 5.45 the following morning, a friend arrives to take me into hospital for my 3rd hip revision.
I will gloss over the joy of having a major operation in the middle of a gut and brain churning Council botch up. Suffice it to say, Cornwall Council did something very right in funding the ‘Steps’ programme. On returning home from hospital, for the first time ever, a carer came daily to help me wash and cook a simple meal. I never allowed them to do that, having always been too independent to allow anyone to do anything I am capable, however difficult, of doing myself but it was wonderful to have them here for coffee and some support.
My grateful thanks go to Liskeard Team Leader Mandy Payne and all the carers for their kindness.
COUNCIL PAYS EX DEBT COLLECTOR TO GIVE MEDICAL OPINIONS
In his letter to me dated 14th March, my GP states,
“I spoke to Mr Weight by phone the following day (16th Jan). He informed me that you had made accusations against close neighbours that they had been talking about you behind your back and maligning you and that you felt persecuted by everyone. Mr Weight said that he had found no evidence to support these allegations. He told me similar episodes had occurred at your previous address and necessitated you moving home. Mr Weight was concerned over the disparity between your allegations against your neighbours and his inability to support these allegations with concrete evidence and indeed expressed concern that such circumstances would lead one to suspect paranoid thought processes.”
An online definition of paranoia upsets me as being classed as a serious mental illness.
Mr Weight’s text of substantial list of supporting witnesses’ claiming to have criticised me to the council and Mr Vinson’s letter stating; “People were spoken to” show beyond any shadow of doubt that people were talking about me. It is comical that Mr Weight suspects “paranoid thought processes” and by now I feel that such devious and mendacious types are best avoided. I was moved here needing a level access shower property. It beggars belief that a Council employee will tell such lies to a professional and I cannot understand why he would want to do this.
Later in March, with the very helpful practice manager as witness, my GP waves their arms in the air, laughs and says emphatically that No, I am not paranoid. It amazes me that a Council ex debt/rent collector can play at making serious medical diagnoses over the phone with my GP who writes and states that they refuse to have anything further to do with Mr Weight or Cornwall Housing.
Mr Fitzpatrick’s subsequent letter made no mention of this, maybe due to embarrassment though his letter states that after my shower while listening to Mrs (Showgarden) and Mrs (Coffee) in October last year ….
“…you went out into the street in a dressing gown or with a towel wrapped around you.”
One wonders sometimes what these managers are on. I was fully dressed and am not prone to wandering the streets half naked.
At this time, I wanted to move away from such an upsetting and harassing situation. Mr Blackie sent me more Homechoice forms but I simply could not stomach the thought of vainly trying to convince the banding panel of my need to move. If this panel ignored three GP’s and my Consultant’s letters then what else did I have to convince them ? I never filled in the forms.
CRUTCHES, THE COUNCIL AND THE CLERGY
Three weeks after coming out of hospital, I have a meeting on Weds, 12th March at my home with Snr manager Mr Mark Vinson who wore drain pipes and an old jacket most charity shops would not accept. My local vicar, Rev Tony Stephens attends and tells me that ‘Dress down Friday’ often promotes creativity. I believe you, Rev Stephens. But thousands wouldn’t.
Rev Stephens asks Mr Vinson if he would agree that Mr Weight’s eviction threat letter is “the sort of letter one might send to a dirty drug dealer with a dirty home and not someone like Miss Thomas (that’ s me) ?”
Embarrassed, Mr Vinson looks down and nods. Rev Stephens suggests initiating an advocate scheme for single people like me who have to fight the council alone. Again, embarrassed, Mr Vinson looks down and nods. His subsequent letter states:
“Mr Weight’s use of vocabulary is poor and that the ‘list’ is not substantial but people were spoken to.”
This now begs the question; did Mr Weight approach these people or did they approach him ? This is taking on a surreal hue and Monty Python springs back to mind. This is such a small village with one junior school and a Post Office. Apart from a few cottages, where I do not know the residents and am on smiling, nodding terms only, the only locals I know are the church congregation living farther away and my cul de sac neighbours. Some of us began to think Mr Weight invented his substantial list.
Many letters and emails to the Council Data Protection dept lead me nowhere. I am reminded that it is reasonable for tenants not to want their identities revealed to those whom they have criticised. No one seems to understand the malice or defamation angle to this and I began a long correspondence with the Information Commissioner’s Office who have replied that Cornwall Housing are acting within Data Protection legislation.
At this time, Mr Blackie said in a phone call that the Council had received one letter of complaint about me. I reason this can only be Mr Exhaust and the van episode last August. Mr Blackie ignored a few emails asking to have this investigated and finally emailed in August that he cannot remember saying this. Another case of selective memory.
DOWNING CRUMBS OF COMFORT WITH PICKLES
My emails to Mr Eric Pickles MP, Communities Secretary at HM Government went unanswered so I wrote to the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron’s office wrote a lovely letter, referring me to Mr Pickles who replied that Cornwall Housing were obliged to be ‘transparent and accountable’.
It all amounted, as I thought it would, to a waste of time but it gave me a feeling of satisfaction that the offices of Mr Pickles and Mr Cameron now know all about Mr Vinson, Mr Fitzpatrick, Mr Weight and co.
And it tickled me that when told of this, Mr Blackie gasped over the phone,
“You did WHAAAAA T ?” Yes, Stuart, I did.
TOP BANANA INVITED TO LUNCH
Feeling there is no one else left to complain to, I request a home visit with the Director of Housing, Mr Peter Jarman. His secretary politely refuses lunch offered at the noon appointment.
During the preceding weekend, I met a couple socially who claimed to be Council employees. After telling them of my problems with the Council, I am surprised when they tell me, “Cornwall Council are as corrupt as hell.”
Later, wondering if I will find anything online, I type in : CORNWALL COUNCIL CORRUPTION. I find quite a lot. What a shame.
Prior to the home visit, Mr Jarman agrees to ring me on 31st July. He sounded irritable and even though we met at the Three Tenant Panel, he has no idea of my many complaints or the recent’ substantial list’. It is a strain to have to go through it all again.
At the 4th August meeting, Rev Stephens attends and Mr Jarman arrives looking slightly tidier than the last time we met though still not smart enough to be commensurate with his salary or position. Very pleasant manager Chloe Martin also attends. They refuse coffee but accept bottled water in lead crystal glasses.
It irritates me that Mr Jarman still has not boned up on these complaints, admitting to not even having read any of his managers’ letters to me. Rev Stephens says the eviction threat letter was “very heavy handed … ” Mr Jarman does not comment.
I apologise when I mention the employees and the “corrupt as hell” quote. I say that corruption is not a word I take lightly and I do not want to upset or hurt Mr Jarman with these words. He grins and says either “You won’t hurt me” or “You won’t upset me”. I admit to being a bit narked by saying something like, “You don’t seem concerned about anything … ”
Rev Stephens comments, “Laura, I think: you’ll find there is corruption in most large organisations … ” It is my turn to nod in silence.
Mr Jarman finds no fault with his managers’ handling of this matter and I am glad when it is over. I shake hands with Chloe Martin and say to Mr Jarman, “I didn’t want to shake hands with you at our last meeting. And I still don’t”. He grins and they leave.
I would prefer to think Cornwall Council is not corrupt but it is obvious that, the whiff of corruption notwithstanding, this whole business stinks.
Mr Jarman’s email of 15th August says,
“Chris (Weight) has informed me of who (m) (what is it with Cornwall Housing and grammar ?) he spoke to at the time ….. I believe he spoke to a ‘handful’ rather than a’ substantial number of people, about 8 or 9 in total.” He continues,” allegations centred around you ‘badmouthing people.”
With the exception of Mr Exhaust of whom I have never heard good reports, have seen maybe 3 times and have not spoken to since moving day, I found everyone, until the TV spat, to be very pleasant so why would I have wanted to ‘badmouth’ anyone ? It needs to be mentioned that Mr Weight ‘badmouthed’ Mrs Morrissey in saying he felt she may have called me a “trouble maker”. He badmouthed my neighbours in blaming their “narrow minded village mentality.” He badmouthed Potato gun whom he told me belongs to a “Criminal family that stretches throughout Devon and Comwall like the tentacles of an octopus.” Surely this is a case of kettles and pots ?
I simply do not know enough people for there to be 8 or 9 who would go behind my back and anonymously complain about me to the Council. He ends, “these allegations (what allegations ?) relate to November last year and no further complaints have been received …. ”
Complaints have to be in writing so these complaints appear to be based on gossip between Mr Weight and persons unknown to me.
Did Mr Weight speak to 8 people or 9 people ? Is Mr Weight unable to count ? Feeling his “narrow minded village mentality” theory to be correct, I no longer worry about the four neighbours who blank me. A neighbour tells me that, like the last place, ”there have always been problems here.”
Mr Jarman ends that he is “drawing a line under it.”
My email reply to Mr Jarman is that he can draw a line under it when he explains how Mr Weight gets away with calling tenants ‘paranoid’ and compensates me for harassment. I suggest there is still a way for him to come out of this with some dignity. He could admit all managers’ errors, pleading pressure of work as an excuse. I end that as Director of Housing, he needs to take responsibility for his own and his managers’ actions.
Mr Jarman shows some irritation in his email reply of 17th August:
“You have the option of another appeals panel. I will not enter into any further correspondence with you regarding this matter.”
Kind regards, Pete Jarman.”
He answers my well thought out reply with,
“Just to be clear so that you are under no misapprehension and to avoid either of us wasting our time from now on, I will not be reading any further emails that you send me. This will save you time in writing them.” Regards, Pete Jarman.
My 16th September post on Council’s Twitter page asking if this childish behaviour from a Director of Housing is acceptable is answered with a nameless reply that C Hsg will be in touch in a few weeks. At today’s date,’ they still have not replied.
BIG CHIEF RED SOCKS DOES WAR DANCE
In September I contacted Stuart Blackie for his current office address in order to send him a copy of this article. He gave this in his usual calm, pleasant manner. You may remember that earlier this year, Stuart said, “I look forward to reading your online account.”
A few days later, feeling it more appropriate, I sent the article to Mr Andrew Kerr, Chief Executive at County Hall, Truro. I said that if I did not receive an offer of compensation together with an agreement to look at a change of certain policies and a written apology for the eviction threat letter and poor managerial performance by Friday 17th October, then this article would be posted online.
The following day, 1st October, I received a 3 page threatening letter from Christopher Weight’s boss, Adam Fitzpatrick in which he talks about “unreasonable demands” which seem to be my wanting to know the identities of the “8 or 9”. He mentions “unreasonable persistence” of which I am proud. My persistence is only considered unreasonable as, having boxed themselves into a corner, Cornwall Housing managers can see no way out.
Enclosed are 10 pages entitled ‘Unacceptable Actions and Behaviour’ about “aggressive, abusive behaviour, unreasonable demands and unreasonable persistence.” As my vicar pointed out regarding the eviction threat, Mr Fitzgerald’s letter is heavy handed.
Forgetting he rendered me hysterical at the 2nd January meeting, he now insists that in future, I contact only him. If you don’t mind, Mr Fitzpatrick, I’d rather not.
The 10 pages do not mention placing the mentally ill in unsuitable accommodation or allowing them to frighten, threaten and harass tenants. Nor do these pages mention unstable, drunken tenants keeping guns. Or bullying, thuggish managers.
Mr Kerr obviously sent this article to Principal Legal Officer, Mr Simon Mansell who wrote to me on 2nd October acknowledging receipt of my article.
Mr Mansell is of particular interest insofar as he is a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives and an MBE. One wonders why someone who is not as well qualified as a solicitor, would be Principal Legal Officer. This is very much like a classroom assistant being in charge of teachers or the tail wagging the dog.
It may well be that the weight of an MBE is meant to compensate for the lack of Mr Mansell’s legal qualifications. This gentleman who, as referred to previously, used to sign his name in underlined bold type, seems to have desisted this childish practice and I am very pleased he has done so.
Mr Mansell’s letter says he does not intend to engage further with me over these matters. I am very grateful for that.. A huge weight has been lifted.
ALL THOSE VERY PLEASANT PEOPLE
I have been forced to use the expression ‘very pleasant’ so often simply because most Cornwall Housing staff have been just that and mostly a pleasure to deal with. However, something nasty happens occasionally when staff become managers. Some seem to develop authority or power complexes.
In the past five years, I have seen three MP’s and three local Councillors. All very pleasant and all unable to help .. Of late, Chief Executive, Mr Kerr, Mr R. A. Williams and Mr M. Critch, both with flamboyant and incomprehensible job titles, have all ignored my emails requesting that they look into the ‘substantial list` matter. They appear to have now blocked my emails to them.
I am grateful to Mrs Barlow for suggesting that Mr Blackie be my point of contact. He has never snapped or threatened me and over the years, I have found him, in a finger drumming, fringe blowing and eyerolling sort of way to be cool, calm and mostly pleasant. Stuart’s latest job title is ‘Operations Manager’. The mind boggles.
THE LAW OF PANGUTZ
If anyone would like to read my suspense thriller novel, ‘The Law of Pangutz’, it is available by downloading from Amazon to kindle. Just tap in Amazon, the title and my name Laura E. Thomas. I hope you enjoy it.
My second novel, ‘No Envoy, No Anger` will be available shortly. My third novel, interrupted by the last five years, will be finished soon. The last five years will be published online in novel form when I can manage it. It will be called ‘Mailing Shambles Jarlow`.
“YOU`RE LUCKY YOU CAN FIGHT, MANY CAN`T.”
In conclusion, Cornwall Housing should and must overhaul the Homechoice banding system with a GP deciding medical priority.
Tenants with antisocial and medical problems need more help and ongoing care.
A revision of tenant complaints needs to be undertaken with more manager training. And managers must stop exacerbating disputes with what amounts to capricious handling and illconsidered personal opinions.
The Three Tenant Panel needs to be disbanded.
An Independent Advocacy Service for single tenants needs to be founded.
The past five years have taken their toll. After the incident with Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr Clemens, I am too frightened to deal with men in an enclosed space and I will never allow male Council Officials here again. Sometimes, Cornwall Housing’s moral and admin compass seems to be set somewhere near Moscow.
I can fight but my main concern is for, as manager Elaine Bennett said previously, the many who can’t fight an intransigent and sometimes downright malicious Council.
EDITING THE EDITORS
Earlier this year, Mr Mike Jarvis, Editor of the Cornish Guardian listened to my anonymous critics and eviction threat matter saying, “It sounds like a ‘Kangaroo Court’”. He agreed to a reporter contacting Cornwall Comms Unit. He then went on leave. After staff insisting he would return my calls. He never did. The Comms Unit has confirmed that they never received any communication from the Cornish Guardian about this matter. Just like the Cornish Times and Launceston Weekly.
A national press reporter read my emailed complaints and asked for my land line number but I felt I could afford myself more space and time in writing my own article.
AN EXEMPLARY TENANT
On leaving my Housing Association home for my last Council property, their exit letter called me an “exemplary tenant”. If Cornwall Housing are to be believed, they have destroyed that reputation. Tenants must not let this happen to them.
I have survived 2 exes, 8 step children, 14 house moves, 17 operations including a `touch and go` danger list and maybe 20 jobs. I very nearly did not survive Cornwall Housing.
Mrs Jane Barlow, Head of Housing was told this report was on its way over two years ago. She replied, “We may take legal action for any derogatory remarks made about managers.” I have made no derogatory remarks and have told only the truth.
If Mr Weight’s “8 or 9 people” who have complained to Mr Christopher Weight about me actually exist and have any decency or integrity, they will identify themselves to me. My theory is that Mr Weight may have concocted this notion to distract from the allegations of ‘ higher authority’ council staff calling me a troublemaker. Maybe they did.
I will not be discussing this online to avoid trolls. As I have no way of knowing the difference between Royal Mail supportive letters and Royal Mail hatemail, I shall destroy any unidentified post unopened.
Some of you may have noticed that just before leaving my last council address, my tenses wavered between the past and present. This is due to a liking for writing in the present tense and maybe a wish to leave the past behind.
There was no victory for me north of the tamar, only a ton of trouble.
If anyone would like to speak to me about this report, they are welcome to call at my home, 5, Carnedon, Upton Cross, Liskeard, Cornwall. Come off the B3254 and tum after the Upton Cross sign into the lane alongside the blue railings. The Council cuI de sac Carnedon is opposite the public toilets.
And about as fragrant.
Laura E. Thomas 5th November 2014