Case study 3: Council prosecutes woman for bipolar episode

A woman with bipolar disorder was issued with a Community Protection Warning (CPW) on the basis of unfounded allegations made against her by her neighbour. The stress of the CPW led the woman to have a bipolar relapse, after which the council issued her with a CPN and then a breach notice.

The lady concerned had a dispute with her neighbours about a fence panel. After this, she says, the neighbours started a campaign of false and malicious allegations against her and her family, including reporting her for child neglect, for looking out of the window, putting the bin on a shared path, listening to TV that could be overheard, listening to music in the garden for 30 minutes, and fixing art on her walls. She says that some of these allegations were fabricated (such as accusations of banging on walls), and some of the allegations dealt with normal family life (such as TV and music). The neighbours were recording her in her own house without her knowledge or consent. Police and children’s services visited but had no concerns and treated it as a malicious call or took no further action.

Yet the council’s ASB services took the allegations more seriously and issued the lady with a CPW. She said that the officers didn’t seem to want to hear her side of events. The stress of this legal order led to a worsening of the lady’s condition, and she had to stop her work as a classroom assistant. In an increasingly unstable condition, the lady shouted in her garden, saying that the neighbours were fabricating evidence and recording her. This incident led to her being issued with a CPN which ordered her to ‘cease shouting or talking in a derogatory fashion so that it can be heard by your neighbours’.

After the CPN was issued, she had a severe bipolar episode. This involved shouting and swearing in her house, including ranting about the unfairness of the CPN and the way in which she perceives she was being targeted. She says ‘I couldn’t stop ranting, I couldn’t calm down’. She was taking sleeping pills to treat the sleeping problems that result from bipolar episodes. She also increased her normal medication in an attempt to get the episode under control. In response to reports of her unstable conduct from her neighbours and the police, the council issued her with a breach notice for violating the CPN. If convicted, she would have a criminal record.

The council was aware of the woman’s mental health condition, which had been explained to officers in detail by her husband; he made clear that she was receiving treatment and that the condition was normally under control. The ASB team was also aware that she had repeatedly signed off work due to stress, and at one stage was admitted to hospital with extremely high blood pressure. In its breach notice, the council’s ASB officer offered to make a referral ‘to services who may be able to assist you with your issues’ – yet this offer of ‘help’ was undercut by the statement that she had committed a ‘criminal offence’ and they would be ‘instructing the Legal Team to make an application to the Magistrates Court for this breach’.

The Manifesto Club passed this case to the Freedom Law Clinic, who wrote to the council on the lady’s behalf asking for the CPN to be revoked, on the basis of her mental health condition and the fact that she is moving house. The council initially responded that they will ‘not be discharging the CPN’. However, several months later, just before the lady’s appeal was about to go to court, the council said that it would be dropping the legal order.