Case study 21: Seaside couple banned from looking at their neighbours

In January 2018, Sheila and Nigel Jacklin received a Community Protection Warning Letter informing them that their local authority, Rother Council, had investigated them. Among other things the letter prohibited them from going to the beach near their house, being perceived to be looking into any other property in the village they lived in, and making complaints about their neighbours (who owned the property between their house and the beach).

The letter was on plain paper and signed by an Inspector from Sussex Police. The space for the relevant Rother District Council signatory had no signature in it. The letter restrictions had no time limit, implying they would be imposed in perpetuity. No details were given as to how the restrictions might be challenged, nor was a means of appeal provided.

Sheila and Nigel Jacklin had moved to the seaside village of Normans Bay in 1992, where they had set up their own business and raised their two children. Their daily routine included walks to the beach with their two small dogs. Mrs Jacklin does her Hindu Prayers on the beach. Their neighbours had bought their property in 2013 and converted it into a weekend home.

The Jacklins had a number of disputes with their neighbours, including about building works outside of permitted hours and smoke pollution. The neighbours declined mediation and the police advised the Jacklins to take civil action. The Jacklins had started their civil action but were awaiting the results of a Subject Access Request to Sussex Police when they were invited to a police interview.

The Jacklin’s police interviews lasted three hours, and included questions such as why did Mrs Jacklin loiter on the beach and why had Mr and Mrs Jacklin taken different routes home from the beach on a specific day. As far as the Jacklins know, their neighbours were not subjected to a police interview. When the Jacklins obtained a copy of the transcripts of their interviews they found that they were not a fair or accurate representation of them.

After this interview, the CPW was issued. The Jacklins consulted their solicitor (who was not familiar with CPWs) and stopped taking their regular daily walks to the beach for more than three months. Then they obtained advice from ‘Crimebodge’ (an online service) who advised them that they could ignore the restrictions providing they were doing no harm. They started going back to the beach.

When Sheila and Nigel did go back to the beach they were harassed by another villager, who worked as a Metropolitan Force policeman, and is in touch with the complainant neighbours. Sheila had been harassed by this policeman before the CPW process began; she made a complaint about the officer’s conduct, and he responded with a counter-complaint. The Jacklins believe that this officer was instrumental in gaining the CPW issued against them.

The Jacklins launched a Judicial Review to challenge the decision to issue the CPW. This was an expensive and time-consuming process, with Sussex Police and Rother DC as the defendants and the Home Office as an interested party.

In a second police interview, the Jacklins were asked about Mrs Jacklin’s Hindu Prayers, their daily walks to the beach and other issues. This interview found that the Jacklins were not engaging in anti-social behaviour and so the warning was lifted. This meant that the Judicial Review became ‘academic’ (and so came to an end). The responses the Jacklins had already received from Sussex Police lawyers and Rother District Council confirmed that the warning letter ‘had no legal standing’ and that recipients could ‘choose to ignore it’. You could not have told this from the actual letter. Rother DC and Sussex Police claimed for their legal costs in the High Court. In January 2019 the Court ruled that the Jacklins did not have to pay costs; the judge said he ‘would have been minded’ to grant the application for a hearing of the Judicial Review.

Regarding the CPW process, and the impact upon their lives, the Jacklins gave the following comment:

‘Whilst our letter was ostensibly from Rother DC, we subsequently found out that they had effectively subcontracted all work to Sussex Police. We felt Rother took no responsibility for the fact that Sussex Police had undertaken a one-sided investigation. In the words of a local councillor who sat on the Police scrutiny committee, Sussex Police had effectively decided ‘we were the baddies’ with no due process. As a result of our work this rouncillor raised concerns at County level and as far as we are aware such a ridiculous letter has never been issued again.

We later found out that our neighbours attempted (but failed) to get an ASBO issued against their previous neighbours, when they lived a mile down the road.

The impact of this case was devastating. The reason we live by the sea is because we like going to the beach. Legal advice was inadequate and expensive.

The process clearly lacked sufficient oversight and there was no route for appealing the warning. A third family member also received a letter, even though they had not been involved and did not live with us. After several stressful months they were able to get it removed, with serious impact on their studies.’