Wednesday, 04 March 2015

Coroner attacks vulnerable man's support

A housing association has pledged to work closer with partner agencies after a coroner attacked the support a vulnerable man received before he died after suffering years of abuse from neighbouring youths.

Peak Valley Housing Association said it had reviewed its practices and acknowledged the need to work closer with police and the council.

The landlord spoke after coroner John Pollard said that there had been evidence of ‘quite stunning degrees of inertia and complacency’ from bodies which were supposed to be supporting David Askew.

Mr Askew, 64, died in March last year after collapsing from a heart attack following an altercation with youths outside the home he shared with his mother and brother – who, like him, had learning disabilities.

The coroner said he was writing a rule 43 report to Tameside Council to draw his concerns to the attention of the chief executive.

The coroner said: ‘The fact that there were 38 separate offences reported as against this family as well as numerous unreported instances within a three year period shows the appalling way in which this element of feral youths can bring misery to a decent, vulnerable, family.’

The coroner singled out a Tameside Council community safety worker who, the coroner believed, was out of his depth.

The coroner said: ‘I intend to write to the chief executive of Tameside Council pursuant to Rule 43 of the coroners’ rules drawing to the attention of that authority the evidence that Mark Tunstall put before me which displayed a man who was clearly out of his depth in the job that he was doing and because of that the support that should have been available to the family was less effective than it could otherwise have been.’

Despite the CPS previously deciding there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in connection with the death, the coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing at an inquest on Wednesday.

Phil Corris, managing director of PVHA said the association had already put a number of safeguards in and had begun working closer with partners.

He said: ‘I think all of us involved in this very sad case would agree that the main lesson learned is to ensure agencies work together to identify vulnerable people within our communities and ensure that we are effective in protecting them. In the meantime, we continue to support the Askew family in every way we can.’

A Tameside Council spokesperson said that ‘disproportionate and unfair’ publicity had been given to statements made by a junior member of staff but that it would fully cooperate with the rule 43 report.

Readers' comments (10)

  • F451

    It appears that the coronor and the government are in agreement then, as the government is attacking the support of all the vulnerable.

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  • Joe Halewood

    I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere that much anti-social behaviour (ASB) is criminal and Police should be dealing with it not social landlords. This case justifies my many comments that if you are a social tenant the Police don’t deal with ASB / crime and expect the landlord to deal with it. Even when landlord does get ASBOs the Police still dont do their duty - which we all pay for in CTax anyway – and still pass the buck to anyone else.

    This is a chronic tale of Police incompetence (note the address was flagged as vulnerable as long back as 2004!) yet the prevailing police attitude of its the landlords problem / its on an estate therefore not our problem comes to the fore.

    The ECHR report on this I have copied below:-

    David Askew died of a heart attack in the rear garden of his home in March 2010. He collapsed minutes after local youths had reportedly thrown a wheelie bin around and tampered with his mother’s mobility scooter.

    What happened
    David was a 64-year-old man with learning disabilities who lived with his older brother and their mother in Hattersley, Greater Manchester. He had been subjected to harassment by at least 26 different people over a period of more than 12 years. Some of those involved in later incidents were the children of people thought to have been involved in earlier harassment. Incidents happened both at his home and in the nearby Kingston Arcade of shops and included verbal abuse, taking money and cigarettes off him and throwing stones at his windows. Many incidents had been reported to public authorities, particularly the police.

    Following David’s death, one man, Kial Cottingham, 19, was prosecuted for harassment.

    The response
    The police were aware of sporadic incidents of harassment as far back as 1998. In the period 2004-07 the police recorded 10 incidents involving the family. During the first spate of incidents from May to August 2004, the police spoke to social services regarding David and his mother. A CCTV camera was installed at the rear of the address.

    In 2004, David's address was given a computer marker on the police incident management system as a repeat address with 'vulnerable victims'. That marker remained on the address throughout the period up to and including David’s death. However, a number of the police officers responding to the reports appear not to have been aware of it, often dealing with incidents in isolation rather than as part of a pattern of persistent harassment. There was a gap in reported incidents after August 2004 but they started again in January 2006. The police acknowledged that throughout the period up to December 2006 there were often delays in attending the scene following reports and a lack of recognition of the risks the family faced. Communication between the neighbourhood police team and other police staff was inadequate.[1]

    However, the neighbourhood police had instigated some support by raising the family's situation at the Police and Community Together (PACT) meeting in December 2006. At that meeting of PACT, ‘issues of offenders, removal of low wall and David's mental health issues were identified for action. PACT did not act with sufficient urgency in relation to these matters However the Neighbourhood Office did start to keep a written record of incidents of harassment which led to a more accurate picture of the amount of harassment being suffered by David and his family.

    From 1 January 2007 to David's death on 10 March 2010 there were 78 incidents reported to the police, nearly all committed at or close to the home address. On only one occasion was hate crime considered by the police in relation to the case. That was on 27 June 2007 when a sergeant reviewing the incident report made the comment that the matter appeared to be a hate incident. The officer attending mentioned David's ‘mental problems’ and the fact that youths had called him a ‘paedo’ but then went on to state that no mention was made by the youths of David's mental health issues and therefore it was not a hate incident. None of the 31 crimes recorded from the 78< incidents had been identified as hate related. Recognition of incidents as hate related would have raised the profile of the problem regarding the family at least to neighbourhood supervision if not to the senior leadership team.

    Giving evidence to this inquiry, Greater Manchester Police said ‘It was very, very difficult to get any credible evidence. David did get very stressed and agitated when he was called upon to talk about what happened. They also thought the experience of giving evidence would be distressing for him. This put the emphasis on getting evidence from other sources such as the CCTV but the recording system that was installed produced images of poor quality which could not be used to support prosecutions.

    Other agencies, including social services, the council community safety team and the Askew family’s landlord, Peak Valley Housing Association, were also aware of the harassment. From around July 2008 referrals of many of the 26 youths involved in the harassment were made to the community safety team. A gradually escalating policy was adopted starting with sending letters to the parents of the young people involved in the harassment and then arranging meetings with them. Antisocial behaviour orders were obtained but they were frequently breached without any sanctions.

    On some occasions, the authorities put the onus on the Askew family to avoid their abusers rather than tackling the perpetrators themselves. For example, the housing association tried to get the family to move. Similarly, the council’s solution seems to have focused on giving David things to do, such as attending a snooker club and doing voluntary work in order to reduce his contact with the harassers, rather than tackling the perpetrators more effectively.

    In conclusion, this inquiry found that although various agencies took some action, it was neither joined up nor effective in dealing with the harassment, there was often a lack of urgency and no overall plan for resolving the issues. There was no tracking of repeat victimisation so the police tended to deal with incidents in isolation, rather than as part of a pattern. There were few consequences for the perpetrators. The presumption that David would not be a good witness and the poor quality of the CCTV images influenced the decision not to take criminal proceedings. The hate crime framework was not applied. [2]
    1 The issue of communication on antisocial behaviour between neighbourhood police and other police staff is also raised by the HMIC inspection of Greater Manchester Police. Available from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary website.

    2 The Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation into how Greater Manchester Police dealt with the alleged harassment of David Askew reached similar conclusions, although their remit was solely the police response. IPCC found there had been: ‘a lack of consistent identification of, and response to, the vulnerability factors affecting the Askew family; a total failure to recognise and respond to the incidents as “hate crime”; an apparent lack of coordination and cohesive action between partner agencies; a lack of robust offender management’. Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) website, IPCC publishes findings from investigation into GMP contact with David Askew, 21/03/11. Available from Independent Police Complaints Commission website.

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  • As I've said in other postings, cuts by subsequent Governments have led to Housing Associations having to fill the gaps left by Social Services, police, supporting people etc. HAs are subject to more and more interference by politicians and staff are getting more and more stretched to try and take on the extra.

    Shapps should speak to more of the better performing local HAs instead of basing his vitriol on what he sees of the larger or more national type of HAs. to get a better sense of what his weekly utterings mean and do to people that really do care about their tenants.

    Still he said he doesn't think people should have a passion for housing so what can one expect?

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  • Joe Halewood

    Concerned (Private) Landlord - You need to learn to read!

    I dont blame this on cuts at all (so please re-read my comments above) - I blamed the Police and with justification. At least 88 times these crimes were reported to the Police yet they did nothing!!

    The Police doing nothing with regard to crime is the typical response to social tenants as the Police have an attitude of passing the buck to social landlords.

    social landlords have far GREATER responsibilities placed on tenants than private landlords such as you and social landlords have far GREATER responsibilities placed on them by legislation and their (naive) willingness to play a far greater role in addressing ASB (a role private landlords dont have!)

    The actions of criminals affect social tenants far more because unlike private tenants and owner occupiers the Police dont act and leave this to the social landlord. Even when there are 88 reports of crimes going to Police as in this case.

    Read my post again and I dont just sympathise with the vivtim and his family, I say where the blame lays for this outrageous set of circumstances that led to his death - and that blame lies not with cuts but squarely with the Police passing the buck as they always do

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  • Unfortunately in this country there is a complete lack of anybody actually taking accountablity or responsiblity !, and this starts right at the top !

    Agencies including the Police pass the buck saying its someone elses problem and at the end of the day absolutely nothing is done !

    Now I do not know this gentleman, but there are others like him whom have served this country, laying their lives on the line and for what ? the people of Britain deserve and should get much better !!

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  • Joe you have said "I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere that much anti-social behaviour (ASB) is criminal and Police should be dealing with it not social landlords."

    You are washing your hand off it. As a housing officer, you see your job, to house people PERIOD. You don't see your job to ensure people who you house BEHAVE themselves.

    Do you carry about CRB checks on your tenants?
    Do you check, if youth behave in school or have been in trouble with the police? Are they bullies? Are they in gangs?

    Over the years my tenants and I get a constant stream of problems from Housing Associations and tenants on Housing Benefit.

    At ONE house alone, I have my car kicked in dented, spat at, threatned with vicious dogs, rubbish dumped on my front garden, youths jumping into back gardens, 5+ attempted break in, letter box stolen, intimidation by laser light, verbal harrasment threats, dogs stolen from garden and this is from youths who live in nearby housing associations. This is the thank we get for building them NEW houses. The police even got fingerprints when there was a break in, so the police knew who it was. But the culprits where too young, so the police could do nothing.

    Joe you have said "social landlords have far GREATER responsibilities placed on tenants than private landlords"

    Please can you provide what responsibilities you have when it comes to ASB?

    Joe, housing officers like you seem to pamper social tenants, rather them placing responsibilities on THEM, they seem to place responsibilities on you and society without anything in return.

    You say there were 88 complaints. The police can't do much without evidence. Instead of trying to fix a problem, may be these are problems that should NEVER have occured.

    I knew there are some good people in Housing Associations, but I suspect they are often victims of bad tenants...

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  • Joe Halewood

    Concerned (Private) Landlord:
    1. What makes you assume I am a housing officer, I am not.
    2. From that errant assumption you then go on to make huge errant assumptions about HOs working for all social landlords/
    3. I dont say there were 88 complaints, the official facts sy that aand they also say Police ignored them and were incompetent in doing so.
    4. Social landlords can seek ASB orders private landlords cant and have no responsibilities toward ASB.

    In general terms of course these repeated ASB and crimes should not have happened yet even more important is when crime happens the Police should deal with it and in this case they repeatedly did NOT.

    Social landlords place greater responsibilities on their tenants as the law and regulation aallows them to do so - in comparison to private landlords and owner occupiers. That is a simple fact. Social landlords have ASB teams which is funded out of rent - again something that PSLs dont have and again a matter of fact.

    The problem is with the system as I have said repeatedly and it comes down to the fact that because social landlords have more or greater responsibilities than PSLs or owner occupiers that the Police pss the buck and say the crime/ASB is a (social) ladlord problem aand not a police issue. Yet if the same ASB/crime is committed agaainst a private tenant or an owner occupier then the police have to act. Social tenants are shortchanged by the police inactivity by comparison.

    In summary it is a systemic problem which has not been helped by social landlords rush to get involved with ASB - to be seen as community champions or other some such euphemism - and it is their tenants who are perversely getting shortchanged by that policy. They receive a lesser response than PSL or owner occupiers from Police and pay for that inferior service twice, once through Ctax and then again through rent for AB teams.

    None of this excuses the buck passing by Police however and I restate the Police in this case had 88 previous calls before this tragedy happened. That is systemic incompetence as well as systemic buckpassing by Police.

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  • I counted 4 removed comments on this thread to date, 2 of which were mine.

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  • Well, it's very odd that the tag 'learning disabilities' didn't afford the man and his family the utmost in responsive action, even had they been the perpetrators of violence and hatred. So this must be an unusual case to highlight for the purposes of giving even MORE protection to seriously unhinged and chaotic bullies tagged as 'learning disabilities' (aka seriously medicated). The legislation enables full empowerment to HAs to protect vulnerable tenants and when it suits them, they can go to extreme lengths (unlawfully and illegally) to protect perps from accountability or sanction. Those who are heavily medicated do not harmonise within their environment due to an alien lifestyle and there are so many who are being chucked into social housing as an economy measure of care. They become someone else's problem .......

    I am not for one moment suggesting that this poor chap in any way shape or form invite or encourage the thuggery of youth too ignorant and bored to devise more appropriate entertainment. But on a diet rich with additives and trash, pornographic media the education system has produced this behaviour. The parents know no better, having been raised on the same trash.

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  • Godzilla's Banana | 13/12/2011 0:00 am

    mental disabilities are not chucked into social housing. They are created by social housing environment and left to rot there by governments and social landlords who only seem to do anything at all when its convenient to them and not for the victims... What chance had Mr Askew and the thousands like him to recover from any disability in that environment landlords and police know fully about and let it go on for years and years?... And if you are sane you'll inevitably end up disabled.

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