East Chesterton Residents Terrorised by Thuggish Parents


Saturday, October 2nd, 2010. 4:17pm

Two residents of Evergreens, a cul-de-sac off Green End Road, in Chesterton attended the North Area Committee on Thursday the 30th of September 2010 to speak during the police priority setting section of the meeting.

They described the shocking behaviour of some parents who park in the cul-de-sac while dropping their children off at the nearby Shirley school. They spoke of parents parking and not just blocking their drive ways, but often parking in them. They also said parents regularly drove over their, and their neighbour’s gardens. As they addressed the meeting what they were describing got worse and worse. They reported some parents throwing the remains of their children’s lunch into their gardens on a daily basis and complained about very large amounts of rubbish in general.

The committee were told that when the residents spoke to the parents they received verbal abuse and threats in response. One of the members of the public then related an disturbing incident to the committee he said:

I think the worst of it was when I tried to drive to work having finally found the owner of one of the cars who had held me up for about twenty-five minutes and then when I tried to leave and navigate between all the 4X4s and just up to the road another 4X4 pulled in basically had a crowd of people around it shouting at me telling me its my own tough – you know- for living next to a school and I was driven back to my house and verbally abused for about ten minutes then I had to get out and get my bike and cycle to work because I couldn’t get out. So now it has got to the point where I can’t bear to be in my house between half-eight and half-nine in the morning for fear of just getting into a fight or getting attacked.

While neither the police or residents said anything directly, I believe the implication was that those causing the problems were travellers, or those living on travellers’ sites which are nearby both on Fen Road and North of Cambridge Regional College. One of the residents said he was aware the school was doing good work with a “certain community” inside the school, but complained the school was not interested in anything which went on outside its gates. I don’t think it is helpful if it is political correctness preventing people, including councillors and the police, saying what they think.

The police noted that the parents were very polite to them when they patrolled the area.

One resident said that when he had spoken on the phone to the police he had been discouraged from trying to get action taken against those causing the problems due to the threat of retribution. He prompted laughter when he noted “they’ll know where I live”.

Sgt. Wragg said that what was being described sounded serious enough to be dealt with as harassment and one of the residents said he would be prepared to co-operate with the police in taking action.

Councillors had previously set a police priority asking for parking problems associated with the school to be dealt with. It appears that neither they or the police had previously really grasped the nature of the problem. It took the residents attending the meeting in person to relate what they were experiencing.

County Councillor Moss-Eccardt suggested pursuing a Traffic Regulation Order to adopt an “except for access” restriction on the street. He said that the experience of the Addenbrooke’s Access Road showed that TROs can be used in innovative ways and to restrict access to a road based on what you were doing. He said that at Addenbrooke’s rat running is to be banned, but passing through and dropping someone off on the way is to be permitted. Cllr Moss-Eccardt said those breaching the orders could be given £70 fines every time they offended. The residents of Evergreens liked this idea.

The meeting’s chair pointed out Cllr Blair lives in Evergreens and invited her to comment as a resident; she said she wasn’t directly affected by people parking in her drive as she lives behind a courtyard area.

The school is moving to a new site at Nuffield Road which will have better parking in recognition of the fact: “the population of the school includes a large proportion of people who do drive to school all the time”.

As well as offering to follow up the possibility of a traffic regulation order, councillors decided to ask the police to deal with the problems raised as part of one of their new policing priorities. I thought it was notable that despite the county council’s role as the education authority no councillors sought to ask the school to take action, perhaps via the “community” and authority appointed governors.

Request Not to Publish Contribution on Video

Following the meeting one of the residents who had spoken got in touch with the meeting’s chair and requested the footage including their contributions not be published. Cllr Nimmo-Smith, the North Area committee’s chair, who passed on the request to me wrote: “I think there are valid grounds of personal security that justify this request” and I took that into account. The person was identified as the one who arrived later, this was the individual referred to as, “Alistair”. The other individual whose contributions can be heard on my video was fully aware of the recording, he had heard the chair explain the procedure in operation for opting out twice and had discussed the operation of the meeting, including filming, with a councillor. That second individual was present from the start of the meeting, and did not opt out despite being invited to.

The decision on what to do here is not easy; the individual who has asked not to have his contribution published has played a key role in getting councillors to set a police priority; he did this in public by speaking at a public meeting. I don’t think there is any expectation of privacy when contributing to a public council meeting (names and addresses of those asking questions are requested, and on occasion required; it is common for the names of members of the public to be included in the formal minutes). There were clear signs stating filming may occur and that anyone was free to opt-out. I think it is in the public interest to be able to see how police priorities get set and what influences councillors at their meetings. Had the individual wished to write to councillors privately, in confidence, he could have done so, but he chose to use the public meeting. Making what this individual said available to those who look for it will ensure that there is an opportunity for any inaccuracies or exaggerations to be challenged by others. I think that by placing my voice-over on his contributions I have acceded to the individual’s, and the meeting chair’s, request but ensured that no key information is omitted.

In deciding how to approach this I have also considered the potential impact on my, and others’ ability to record council meetings in the future. My own ability to obtain future permissions may be at risk if the council perceives a direction from the chair has not been followed, and if filming results in complaints from public speakers then that might affect the long term prospects for recording meetings.

The reason the camera does not pan to show those speaking was that the camera position was fixed by the chair prior to the meeting and panning was not permitted under the terms of the permission to film granted by the council.

11 comments/updates on “East Chesterton Residents Terrorised by Thuggish Parents

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have made a complete transcript of the first speaker’s contribution:

    Yeah, I am a resident of the Evergreens as is my colleague over there.

    You’ll probably be aware there is a long term traffic issue in The Evergreens caused by the parents who visit the school parking.

    This has been going on for many years now and has been exacerbated in the last three or four years or maybe five years by the introduction of extra mobile classrooms at the school. This has caused more and more vehicles to permeate The Evergreens as well as outside the school on Green End Road. I’m very pleased with the attention the situation is getting from the police, however I would like to see more attention focused on the Evergreens. It is a cul-de-sac and is basically being used as a car park at 9am and 3pm. Let me explain exactly what I mean by a car park; the vehicles belonging to the parents are not just parked on the side of the road, they are parked in people’s drive ways and across people’s driveways. If you come back from work at 3pm you will find there is someone parked in your driveway, and there’s no one in the car so you have to sit there and wait for them to arrive back from the school. That’s how bad it is.

    It gets worse, we’ve asked on previous occasions for parents to come and move their car, so you can get out of your driveway. and you’re met with abuse and threats.

    The other issue is litter. I’d expect there to be a small residual amount of litter caused by a near-by school – sweet wrappers etc. But what I would not expect to see is the entire contents of somebody’s lunch, with the accompanying wrappers and carrier bags just chucked out of the car and left there every day. That’s the level of inconvenience we’re caused. It sounds small in comparison to things like operation Northwood, but consider this has been going on every day for many many years. I’d like something done about it. It is quite easy to stop. These offenders are easy to spot as their cars are parked in people’s drive ways at 9am and 3pm and they leave about half an hour later. They’re easy to spot. It would be good if someone could go up to them and have a word with them say is this your driveway – no – well get off it then. Maybe my colleague would also like to comment.

  2. Phil Rodgers

    Standing up to speak at a public meeting is one thing; knowing that video of you doing so is going to be available afterwards to someone who has “terrorised” you is quite another. This particular case seems to me to be a pretty compelling argument that members of the public should indeed be able to opt out from being filmed.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Rodgers is a Liberal Deomcrat activist, he is using a common Lib Dem tactic of calling for something already in place. Members of the public at council meetings which have been filmed have been given the opportunity to opt-out from being filmed. The council’s policy actually requires an opt-in but in practice three meeting chairs now have reversed this. None has explained their decision in public but I expect they are balancing the disruption to the meeting’s flow with the facilitation of filming.

  4. Phil Rodgers

    I’m bewildered as to what point you’re trying to make. I know that members of the public are currently able to opt not to be filmed; I’m not pretending otherwise. All I’m saying is that I think this is correct, and giving an argument as to why. I had got the impression from your earlier postings that you believe people should not be able to opt out from being filmed at a public meeting. I was just disagreeing with this.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I do think that if you speak at a public meeting you have to expect what you say to be widely publicised.

    The only argument with any merit I’ve heard for allowing someone to request not to be filmed is that filming might make speaking at a public meeting an even harder, more intimidating thing for some people to do than it is already. I don’t think even that argument outweighs the public interest in contributions from the public being heard in public.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    The individual from the Evergreens whose voice can be heard in the video has now been in touch with me to say:

    In retrospect, can you please remove my identity from the video.

    [...]

    I didnt think the video was going to be published, just held as a record of the council meeting.

    I have decided not to edit the video again, and have replied:

    Many thanks for your message.

    I think there is a substantial public interest in the material remaining accessible on my website.

    The local policing priorities have the potential to have a huge impact; the prioritisation of the problem at the Evergreens was potentially at the expense of prioritising burglary and violent crime in the North of the City. While those areas will continue to get some attention, it won’t be at the level it would have been if councillors had prioritised it; the local sergeant will be less able to “bid” for resources to tackle those areas than he would have been had they been prioritised.

    I believe it was your, and the other residents’ personal presence at the North Area committee which in my view swayed the councillors’ views as in the past when this matter has been debated it was clear neither councillors or the police appreciated the scale of the problem.

    I think it is important that people can find out how the police priorities were set and what influenced councillors during their debate.

    There is also the general principle that council meetings are held in public. I think it is entirely reasonable to expect that anything you say at a public council meeting will be widely reported. Just the week before you spoke at the North Area committee a public speaker at the West Central area committee found herself quoted on the front page of the local paper. At filmed meetings I think you could quite reasonably expect to find yourself on television, or on the internet.

    Once material has been made available online it is very difficult, almost impossible, to reign it back in. Copies of the material will be held by a large number of third parties eg. search engines, archiving websites and web caches.

    I note that you are not identified by name at any point, either in the text of my article or in the accompanying video. When posting this email on my site I will do so without including your name myself.

    You had a lot of time to make your decision if you wanted to be filmed or not at the meeting, and were given a number of opportunities to opt-out. You also only made your request to not be filmed after publication of the video, on the grounds only of a misassumption of how the video would be used. In all these aspects your situation is very different fro that for the resident whose voice I have disguised.

    The minutes of the meeting are not yet available, but it would not be at all unusual for a member of the public’s name to be associated with their comments in the public minutes. Do you consider the video to be significantly different from this?

    Have you discussed this request to take material down with your local councillors? Allowing the filming of council meetings is a very new thing for the council to be doing; there are many problems with the current arrangements. I would strongly suggest that you make any comments you have to your local councillors, and perhaps some of the opposition members. If opt-outs were to be possible at any point following the meeting then it would be yet another way in which the council would be making it impractical for their meetings to be filmed, while in a nominal way retaining their policy allowing filming with permission.

    Lastly, can I point out that the meeting you contributed to was not a police surgery, or neighbourhood policing meeting, it was a formal city council meeting. It is not, in my view, an appropriate forum for raising personal matters. I think this is something perhaps chairs of such meetings should perhaps consider as quite regularly allegations about particular households, or groups of individuals are made at such meetings whereas they would be better made directly to the police. While your own personal experiences appeared to influence councillors, perhaps unduly, I think you probably went into too much detail about your own situation rather than matters affecting the wider population.

    While I have decided to keep the material on my site; I will be happy to re-assess balance of the public interest with your own individual interests if I am provided with any further information.

    Regards,

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    A report to the Council’s Civic Affairs Committee on the 2nd of February 2011 has been published.

    This reveals the complaint was from “a member of the public, who spoke at the meeting and consequently appeared on the blog”.

    That means it was not from the individual who arrived late.

    Council officers are suggesting that the council’s cabinet be exempted from filming/photography/recording; and have made an argument for stopping the filming of meetings by “non-established media”.

    The papers for the Civic Affairs committee are available at:
    http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/democracy/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=179&MId=230

    Despite all requests for filming seeking, and being given, an exemption from the requirement that:

    The applicant must agree to share the film/ recording/ photograph in its original and unedited form with the council’s democratic services manager on request.

    this remains in the council’s protocol following the recommended amendments.

    It is notable that the report omits the fact that my requests to record audio and take photographs were all rejected. The practicality of taking photos from a fixed position, especially if no access is given to the camera during the meeting.

    The council’s own photography of the East Area committee is omitted from the report. This was not done from a fixed position, and the direction in which the camera was pointed varied – as is of course necessary to capture useful images of a meeting.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the January 2011 North Area committee councillors removed this as a local priority despite being told problems were continuing.

    Sgt. Wragg of Cambridgeshire Police reported that officers were not prosecuting offenders here because the school has done lots of good work with the travelling community. He said that they were trying to address the problem by giving out “words of advice”.

    He added that residents were unwilling to provide statements to the police to help them prosecute (one of the residents who spoke at the September North Area committee said he would co-operate with police, it would be interesting to know if that has been followed up).

    Sgt. Wragg also said he was surprised to find some residents unconcerned that others were using their drives to park on when they weren’t there.

    The Cambridge-News has written a follow-up article following the January 2011 North Area Committee:

    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/Head-sorry-as-tension-rises-over-car-parking.htm

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