On a miserable damp Sunday a few weeks ago, I kept hearing a popping sound outside; my cats rushed into the house in a panic and refused to go out again. The birds were also surprisingly silent and there was no sign of the usual squirrel onslaught on the bird feeders.
So, in between the showers, I ventured into the garden to try to see what was causing the disturbance. Call me naive, but it was a couple of hours before I suddenly thought it could be a pellet gun; then I heard it again, and peering over the fence saw that a ground floor window in the neighbouring flats was open. The occupier, an obviously troubled young man whom I had tried to befriend, was under some sort of supervision order so I went to investigate.
On the very rare occasions when ‘air rifle’ or ‘pellet gun’ had ever been mentioned, I had assumed that it was equivalent to something like a large water pistol so, imagine my surprise, when, in a hurry to hide his weapon from me, the author of this murderous campaign to obliterate the local wildlife accidentally pushed it through the window. It was the size of a military rifle; had I been more knowledgeable, I may have hesitated to intervene! However, he did put it away when I told him to.
How someone ‘under supervision’, being housed at public expense in a council-sponsored scheme to ‘rehabilitate’ young people (all men) had a). been able to purchase such a weapon, and b). been able to hide it from his ‘supervisors’ in a small flat, I shall never understand.
To my absolute fury, the grounds were covered in mutilated birds: blackbirds, starlings (which had returned for the first time in years) wood pigeons, collared doves and an array of the smaller feathered visitors to my feeders; there may be less sympathy for the mangled grey squirrels, but they are a nuisance rather than harmful. Being nocturnal, our increasingly rare hedgehogs thankfully escaped the massacre.
My fury hadn’t abated by the time his ‘supervisor’ later made his daily visit, and I told him what had happened. Although surprised, he couldn’t remove the weapon. Apparently they are ‘legal’, but (according to Google) should only be employed in a public space with permission – the flat management company certainly would not have authorised such a use. But the police were unable to intervene and the guilty party was moved within a week – no doubt to cause mayhem elsewhere.
His predecessor in the ‘rehabilitation’ scheme had turned out to be a drug dealer. Over several months, he partied with his friends well into the night, and dealers came back and forth at all times of the day, but especially at night – leaving engines running and chatting loudly on mobile phones, disturbing everyone’s sleep. The block of flats apparently stank of drugs, but no-one knew what to do. Neighbours were fearful of retribution if they said anything; these guys were big and obviously spent a lot of time working out.
Fortunately, the police eventually raided the flat and arrested a number of people. Nevertheless, they subsequently returned to empty the flat of all valuables, including a large TV, purchased by the council, since it hadn’t been secured after the raid. Needless to say, this person is evidently also still free and practising his dark arts elsewhere in the town.
In the wake of these two events, I wrote to the council leader, asking for the terms of reference and how the newly-formed organisation which is supposed to manage the ‘rehabilitation’ is monitored. It took more than a month, and a reminder, to receive a patronising and totally inadequate response from an officer, who referred to the ‘sensitive nature’ of the programme. Not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of law-abiding people, I fear. Nor open enough to agree to meet with the flat management company, which had to foot the bill for repairs and additional cleaning.
I suggested that they transfer the rehabilitation programme to the officer’s own neighbourhood in a more ‘exclusive’ part of the town, so they could experience the daily disruption for themselves! Some hope. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases which will not be subject to an investigation by Scrutiny Committee, but it should be. Of course rehabilitation is essential, but it is a two-way street – engaging both those who need that support and those who are responsible for delivering it effectively, as well as neighbours.
I’m telling you all this because councils don’t always grasp the impact of decisions which, in principle, seem perfectly fair and logical but, in practice, can be disastrous. And they should be held accountable when anti-social behaviour arising from such decisions disturbs local cohesion over long periods.
My own mixed community of small houses and flats, including some social housing, close to the town centre and university, is friendly and supportive of each other, but these two incidents brought fresh safety concerns, especially amongst older people and families with young children (as well as those with pets). There is a regular churn of young renters, and occasional house/flat sales, but people quickly embed themselves, and they shouldn’t be spending months worrying about their safety when they get home after a hard day’s work – it’s unsettling.
And not a single one of my four local – all Labour – councillors (3 borough, 1 county) put his head above the parapet to enquire how residents were managing after these incidents. Not surprising, really, since they never show any interest in anything (unless they’re up for election).
So I hope Conservative councils and councillors can teach them a thing or two, by first, being proactive in monitoring ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘relocation’ schemes in their own areas, identifying issues early so they can be addressed before getting out of hand. However secretive such programmes are, ward councillors should be told about them and receive regular progress briefings.
And, secondly, by urging the LGA to campaign for pellet guns to be licensed; they should not be freely available to anyone anywhere. We have the most rigid gun laws in the world, which has undoubtedly saved us from some of the worst mass murders experienced elsewhere, although gun crime does appear to be rising in some areas. Pellet guns may not be able to inflict the same damage, but tell that to people who have been injured by them, and to those whose much loved pets have been injured/killed – deliberately and for ‘fun’.