Case study 2. Pensioner issued with multiple legal orders and prosecuted for knotweed

An elderly lady in north London received a series of council CPNs for Japanese knotweed. The lady is in her late 70s, and a non-native English speaker; she lives alone with her daughters in a house with a relatively large area of land, and she is carer for one of her daughters.

The lady said that her first contact with the council came when several council officers came to her house, and in an aggressive manner threatened to kick down her door. One of the officers was wearing a hood. They came without any warning and left no papers.

Subsequently she was issued first with a Community Protection Warning for allegedly having Japanese knotweed on her property, then on a subsequent visit with a Community Protection Notice.

She appealed the CPN at the Magistrate’s Court, but received no response. Instead, she received another CPW, and then another CPN. When she appealed this second CPN, there was again no response. Instead, she got another unannounced visit and a letter cellotaped to her door.

The pandemic then began. It was during the pandemic that another CPW and CPN were issued. Again, the officers turned up unannounced. The lady repeated the appeal.

None of the notices had any maps or photos. The council officers always brought the police with them to deliver the notice.

Instead of gaining an appeal hearing, the lady instead received prosecution papers for breach of CPN (which were issued during the third national lockdown). The lady then had to endure three very hard-fought prosecution hearings, with only help from one of her daughters to defend herself.

Finally, the lady obtained a court hearing to appeal the CPN. The lady and her daughter attended the first appeal hearing, and two further hearings were heard in her absence.

The stress of the case was too much for the lady, and she became ill, and was unable to attend the main appeal hearing. In her absence, the CPN was upheld. The council filed for her to pay £4000 legal costs.

The lady and her daughter attended the costs hearing. The lady was not given an assisted hearing headset at any of her hearings. The lady was ordered to pay £1000 in costs to the council. The court ordered that she had three months to pay, but after the court case the council hassled for her to pay immediately.

From prosecution papers, the lady learnt that complaints over the Japanese knotweed had been initiated by a neighbour, who claims that the weed has spread to his adjoining land. Yet the pensioner claims that she and her daughters are being harassed by the neighbour. One text message received from the daughter read:

‘Our neighbour came on our land videoing me and my mum and wouldn’t leave then he continued to video all our land and house whilst we were inside calling the police. It’s all too much at the moment! Can’t sleep at night!’

The lady says that she and one of her daughters have been screamed at by this neighbour, who has also on many occasions blocked their driveway with his car. She has reported the harassment to the council and police – including requesting one community trigger – but no response has been forthcoming. Just before her appeal hearing, the neighbour was found in her garden bringing a councillor with him. The women say they have also been the victims of targeted anti-social behaviour from others; they asked for a community trigger but again there was no response.

To these women, the CPN legal process appears arbitrary and unjust; they feel that they are victims of harassment via a legal process that is stacked against them. They live in fear and in a state of virtual siege. Their lives have been turned upside down. The matter has also caused stress and aggravation. As a result of their experience, the women feel suspicious of, and have lost trust in, council officers and the police.

Recently, the council again prosecuted the lady for CPN breach, which could result in a £2500 fine (in addition to council costs). At the last minute before the second breach hearing, the Manifesto Club managed to find a good lawyer to represent the lady. The council was persuaded to drop the CPN and the breach notice.

However, the lady has not been refunded her £1000, and the council continues issuing her with legal notices.