Page last updated at 01:10 GMT, Friday, 10 February 2006

A family under siege

By Paula Dear
BBC News, in Northampton

Clare
The youths responsible are as young as nine, says Clare

Clare and her family say they are the victims of a sustained campaign of abuse and harassment by a group of local youths.

As part of a week-long series on respect in one English town, focusing on Northampton, the BBC News website talked to her about the anti-social behaviour her family suffers daily.

Every evening, at around teatime, everyone in the house becomes tense.

They are waiting for it to start.

As stones are hurled at their house for hours on end, Clare, 26, has to keep her two sons, aged four and nine, away from the windows in case they shatter, she says.

When they are out in the street, or in their own garden, the youths yell "divvy" or "spastic" at her children and husband Alan.

It's got to the point where the kids are prisoners in their own home
Clare

All three have disabilities, and Clare suffers from epilepsy so severe that she has been forced to give up her job as a catering manager.

Her eldest son has autism, and the youngest has been diagnosed with developmental delay which means he has the speech ability of an 18-month-old toddler. Both boys also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Their father grew up locally and went to a nearby special needs school.

"They target us, I believe, because they know my husband is disabled and it's quite obvious that my children are disabled.

"My eldest child is picked up and dropped off at home on school transport which is provided because he goes to school on the other side of town."

Police 'concerned'

The youngsters who plague the family are aged from around nine to 16, says Clare, and often carry on with their behaviour until three or four o'clock in the morning.

"I do wonder what their parents are doing," she says.

The situation started with youths leaning on the fence outside the family's council home, shortly after they moved in two years ago.

"From there it's just escalated. It's got to the point where the kids are prisoners in their own home. You can't let them out the front, you can't let them out the back.

Vandalised bus stop
Anti-social behaviour is a problem in some of Northampton's estates

"These people have just destroyed my garden, caused a nuisance and made my life a misery.

"We have asked them quite politely to stop but we just get a load of verbal. Now we tend to ignore it, and sometimes we ring the police."

One such occasion was when an estate agent's For Sale sign was lobbed at their living room window, says Clare.

She says she has upwards of 30 crime references numbers from the calls she has made to police.

Officers tell her there is little they can do without knowing who the perpetrators are, she says, but the area in which they live in Northampton is not the kind of place where people "grass" on others, says Clare.

I am concerned to hear of this lady's situation and will ask one of my officers to go round and talk to her as a matter of urgency
Inspector Caroline Lindsay

Northamptonshire Police denied they cannot help without the names and address of offenders, but said it would be "useful" to help them build evidence towards getting anti-social behaviour orders.

"In any event, we could possibly look at installing cameras at the lady's address or putting plain clothes officers on observation duties," said Inspector Caroline Lindsay, of the Northampton Northeast Community Action Team.

The force said it had 13 recorded incidents at the family's home in the last year alone, reporting "rowdy behaviour, juvenile nuisance and criminal damage". One was classified as a crime.

"I am concerned to hear of this lady's situation and will ask one of my officers to go round and talk to her as a matter of urgency," said Inspector Lindsay.

'Nightmare'

She said there was a problem with anti-social behaviour in the area and that police had recently appealed for people to come forward with information.

"I am also putting systems in place to ensure that incidents which come in, and which do not get classified as crimes, are properly scrutinised so that they can be acted upon more robustly if appropriate," she added.

A report about the situation has also been lodged with the local council, but Clare is not confident that anything can be done.

"I can't move any more because finding a three-bedroom house in Northampton isn't very easy unless you are willing to buy a house, which we can't afford to do because we are on a low income."

"Trying to get the situation sorted is becoming more stressful that the situation itself, it's just a nightmare."

  • Names have been changed to protect the people involved

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