Case study 29: Pensioners threatened with CPN for talking to son in driveway

A 78- and 80-year old couple had lived in their house in south-east England for over 50 years. Trouble began when a new neighbour moved next door. This neighbour had a relatively senior position in the council. He had caused problems for several other residents, the local school, and had already caused another neighbour to move away.

The couple reported the neighbour’s anti-social behaviour to the police on several occasions, but nothing was done. Out of the blue, during the covid pandemic, the couple received a letter from the council headed ‘Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014’, which referred to a complaint of ‘alleging nuisance caused by noise’, relating to ‘large groups gathering at the front of your property speaking in raised voices on a regular basis causing distress to your neighbours’.

The letter also stated that the council would be monitoring the property and if the council deemed the nuisance to be ‘persistent, unreasonable and having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’, they it was likely it would take further action and serve a CPN – breach of which was a criminal offence.

No evidence was provided in the letter, nor any detail as to when the incidents were alleged to have taken place, the frequency, level of noise, nor type of distress caused – despite requests being made by the couple on a number of occasions.

The couple believed that the complaint arose because of occasional visits by their son and his family during the pandemic. Because of social-distancing rules, their family members stayed at least 2 metres away on the front drive, while the couple spoke to them from the front door. On these occasions, the neighbour would purposefully put on very loud music, and turn on the leaf blower, in an attempt to make it difficult for the couple to speak with their family members. Their daughter-in-law would also bring shopping for the couple on Saturday mornings, and have a conversation from the driveway.

The council officer interviewing the couple noted in an email record that the elderly lady was very distressed by these allegations. She said: ‘The tone of the letter was extremely heavy-handed and I was devastated and broke down as I just couldn’t believe what I was being accused of. Throughout this I was frequently in tears, had sleepless nights and when I woke in the morning had bouts of deep anxiety.’

Whilst the CPW/CPN investigation was ultimately dropped over 4 months later, the situation left the couple feeling unsafe and unable to use their garden. The elderly lady felt tormented by the neighbour and like she was made out to be a criminal in her own home, for doing nothing more than talking to her family. The ordeal caused significant distress and harm to the couple involved – the elderly lady has previously suffered and this incident left her feeling unable to carry on.

Ultimately, the couple felt that the only way to resolve the problem, and prevent further harm to their mental health, was to put their house on the market and move from the home where they had lived for 53 years.