Hartlepool woman given two-year court injunction after 'sustained campaign of harassment against her neighbours'
A nuisance neighbour has been made the subject of wide-ranging order banning her from harassing people in her street.
Fourteen neighbours of Susan French made complaints about her behaviour.
French, of Portmadoc Walk, Hartlepool, denied all the allegations against her, saying the neighbours had been harassing her.
Among the allegations against 57-year-old French was that she was abusive to neighbours, made rude gestures to them, poured some powder into a neighbour's garden, filmed one of her neighbour's children and threw dog faeces into a neighbour's garden.
The judge discounted Ms French’s claims of physical and mental disability and found she made false and malicious allegations to victims’ employers and housing providers, child protection officials, Cleveland Police, the RSPCA, benefit fraud officials and the council, and threw stones at her neighbours’ properties.
Hartlepool Borough Council applied for a civil anti-social behaviour order against French.
A hearing over two days at Middlesbrough County Court heard claim and counter claim from the council and French.
A video showed French scaling a step ladder to pour white powder onto a neighbour's garden.
French said she was using Epsom salts for weed control on a strip of land she owned.
Lewis Kerr, for the council, said French was seen to make two-fingered gestures at neighbours from her window.
"I did no such thing," said French, "I was pulling the blinds down,
"I am the victim in all this, not them
"They are harassing me, abusing me in the street, throwing things at my property.
"I am on my own, and have no one to stand up for me.
"I don't know why they are saying these things about me, I don't shout, swear or call people names."
The court heard allegations French had thrown faeces from her dog into a neighbour's garden.
"My dog does his business in the field when I take him for a walk," she said.
"He knows he's got to hold it in until then, and I always pick it up."
French said she took some video of seven-year-old boy who lives in her street because she feared he was going to vandalise her property.
The court heard the boy told her to 'behave' before going back to his house.
Finding in the council's favour, District Judge Sean Cook said the evidence against French was overwhelming.
"The fourteen statements detail complaints from neighbours that are extremely numerous," said the judge.
"Then there are the statements from the council's social behaviour officer, three police officers, and two community support officers, and other employees of the local authority.
"The court cannot accept Ms French's assertion that all those people are lying, and the court cannot accept her claim this is an enormous conspiracy against her.
"The quality of the evidence is good, and the accounts are consistent.
"On the whole, I found Ms French to be an evasive witness, frequently changing her position.
"To be blunt, I cannot accept many of the statements she made.
"I do find there has been continuing anti-social behaviour by her for at least two years."
French was made the subject of an injunction banning her from harassing any neighbour, or videoing or recording them, for two years.
Mr Kerr applied for costs of approximately Â£16,000 on behalf of the council.
Judge Cook said both parties should seek to reach an out of court agreement over the costs, but if no agreement could be reached he would make a ruling.
What French is banned from doing under the order:
The injunction was granted following a two-and-a-half year investigation involving several thousand hours of work by staff from the Hartlepool Community Safety Team.
The order runs for two years, until October 24, 2020, and any breach would be civil contempt of court punishable with an unlimited fine or imprisonment of up to two years.
The injunction – granted under the terms of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 – orders that Ms French must not:
* Use threatening, abusive or intimidating language or behaviour towards another;
* Behave in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress;
* Behave in a manner likely to cause nuisance or annoyance to a person at the place of residence;
* Encourage others to do any of the acts identified above;
* Direct and/or use any audio or visual recording device towards any person at their place of residence or in the vicinity of their place of residence.
Nicholas Stone from the Hartlepool Community Safety Team said: “Ms French carried a sustained campaign of harassment against her neighbours in Portmadoc Walk.
"The persistent false and malicious complaints she made caused enormous distress, fear and intimidation to more than 20 people, including children.
“The harassment also extended to other members of the public and included her targeting professional officers – both council and police officers – with claims of misconduct.”
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, chairman of the Safer Hartlepool Partnership and Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “I would like to thank the numerous victims of Ms French’s harassment and the witnesses who were prepared to come forward and provide the evidence that enabled the Hartlepool Community Safety Team to bring this matter to court.
“All of the staff involved in this case also deserve huge praise for their excellent work over such a prolonged period of time. It was their dedication, commitment and determination that ultimately brought this matter to such a successful conclusion.
“I hope this case sends out a clear message to others that anti-social behaviour will simply not be tolerated in Hartlepool.”