A member of the family who featured in our last blog has spoken out about the court case brought by Boston Borough Council – claiming that there was more to it than a row about a fish pond – and calling Worst Street bigoted and racist.
Although Mrs Aila Abdel-Khalek and her husband Mohamed were ordered to pay 60 per-cent of the £62,000 cost of the case – which came to just over £37,000 – the balance of just under £25,000 was charged to Boston Borough Council.
“The court awarded 40% costs against the council because it supported our neighbours’ Islamophobic complaint,” said Mrs Abdel-Khalek.
She said that the national newspapers reported on it as though it was just about the pond.
“It started off as that but that’s not why it went to court.
“We were taken to court for anti-social behaviour for the display of a Saudi flag, a plastic heron and a Christmas light.”
She said that she and Boston Borough Council have a “massive history” much of it relating to planning issues.
And although the neighbours raised complaints with the council, it refused to investigate scores of counter complaints made by the Abdel-Khaleks – even when a wall was built next door without permission.
“The council said ‘tough’ we’re not going to take any steps to remedy the breach. “How can you have one law for me extending my pond and they built a permanent structure three metres high which abuts my Grade II listed property?
“Why is the council behaving like this do you think?
“My bottom line is that they are bigoted. I think they’re racist.”
“I think that the problem is that when you have a so-called counter-terrorism officer who is also the anti-social behaviour officer supporting individuals who write that – because of your religion – you are a terrorist that you have got serious questions that need answering.”
Worst Street played its trump card during the debate – by invoking its ‘Persistent and Vexatious Customer Policy’ which is aimed at “a very small minority of customers who make complaints that are vexatious or unreasonably persistent in order to make life difficult for the Council or individuals, rather than genuinely to resolve a grievance.”
These rules include: “Refusing to accept the decision, i.e. repeatedly arguing the point and complaining about the decision.”
“They said that because you have been persistent in making reports of anti-social behaviour as a victim we are not going to respond to you – in writing.”
Mrs Abdel-Khalek continued: “They have no intention of supporting my family but support a white family.
I am sorry to be as blunt as that but when the only differing factors in the two equations are protected characteristics, then that’s the ugly truth, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to address.
“It sounds really awful but to have read in writing reports made by e-mail to the council stating that because we are Muslim that we are the sort of people who are compared with those who are responsible for the London and Stockholm bombing incidents, and to be reported to the police on more than one occasion for having a Saudi national flag because my stepdaughter, who lives at home with us, is Saudi, that we are terrorists and belong to an ideology of terrorism. My husband is a retired eye surgeon and has served the community of Boston for over 30 years. What is this nonsense, and why?
“To be accused of those things purely because of one’s faith … which is quite frankly a private matter in any event … I find it absolutely despicable for the council to support that action.
“I’ve been complaining about anti-social behaviour with us as victims since about May 2015. In August/September 2016 we held a meeting about why the council weren’t dealing with my complaint. Unknown to me my neighbour had also been complaining about us and that wasn’t raised at the meeting.
“Then out of the blue, a month later came a letter that said there had been complaints about us – not disclosed – asking us to sign an anti-social behaviour contract detailing 17 points. One of the points in that was circumventing the planning permission that I had just obtained. “
Mrs Abdel-Khalek said the contract conditions included housing the pond equipment.
“The moment I signed that I would be in breach of planning because to have any pond equipment in a structure I would need planning permission – so I’m either in breach of my anti-social behaviour contract the moment I sign up or I’m in or in breach of planning if I adhere to the anti-social behaviour contract.
“There were things like not to undertake any work to the garden – including the trimming of plants – without obtaining the council’s permission at least 28 days beforehand; not to use any equipment capable of making sound at the property; not to have any CCTV equipment at the property higher than two metres … the height of a doorframe. It would render the equipment unfit for purpose.
“It was absolutely outrageous and on top of that I’ve not been told of a single complaint against me. Why was I being asked to sign an anti-social behaviour contract in any event?”
She said that a compromise was offered, but it wasn’t accepted.
“Any change wasn’t acceptable to them.
“An anti-social behaviour agreement is not mandatory it’s voluntary and that’s why we went to court, and it was all about teaching us a lesson for having had our planning permission granted and part of the wider campaign of harassment that is continuing to this day; and the council has confirmed that they have not investigated a single complaint which we have made.
“The council has a duty of care. These are repeat victims being targeted because of their protected characteristics, and I’m reminding the council about the policy, the legislation”
Even an appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman fell on deaf ears.
“The ombudsman said that in relation to the planning issues it has no jurisdiction to make any finding against the local authority where it has exercised its discretion in a planning matter.
“In relation to the anti-social activity, because half of what we are talking about has been discussed in a court, the ombudsman has no jurisdiction to make any finding and cannot investigate. And because we had raised a number of complaints about Boston Borough Council it was unlikely that the Ombudsman would investigate it in any event.
“And even if they find in your favour the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to compel a council to adhere to its findings – they have complete autonomy and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”
We think that’s what’s known as Catch-22 – and interestingly enough, the judge’s ruling in the case stated that the neighbours complaining about the pond and decorations ‘harboured irrational thoughts about the significance of the display of the Saudi Arabian flag’ – which they complained to the council about 11 times.”
Whilst we may be critical, we always try to be fair – and we e-mailed a summary of the above report to Boston’s Chief Executive Phil Drury with a request for any comment he might care to offer about the charges made against the council. We also asked about the process that saw this case taken to court, and also the chain of command involved.
We were interested in this aspect because – as far as we can tell, our councillors were unaware of what was being done in Worst Street’s name … nor the cost involved.
Mr Drury responded: “The matter remains a live case before the courts and therefore I am unable to comment further due to legal privilege. Furthermore, information relating to individuals involved in the matter remains confidential.
“There are many allegations and accusations in your e-mail which the Council does not recognise as accurate, particularly noting the Local Government Ombudsman has received several complaints relating to this matter and has not found the Council at fault in the way this matter has been conducted.”
The case remains live? Not more bills on the way for the taxpayers, we hope!
At long last, the petition from the people of Boston asking for a share of the National Roads Fund which is giving up to £100 million per bid to help cut congestion, unlock housing and boost economic growth.
Although a consultation period bid for money started on 23rd December last year and ended on 16th March, an announcement from Worst Street said that local MP Matt Warman handed it over to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling about ten days ago.
The petition was raised by readers of the Boston sub-Standard and ‘supported’ by Boston Borough Council, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association.
Mr Warman told Boston Eye that it contained around 1,700 signatures – and demonstrated “the challenge of getting people to sign up to something rather than raise it on social media ...”
Certainly the number of signatures is an improvement on previous efforts by the sub-Standard – and might have been better still had Worst Street’s ‘support’ been more than the usual cursory item or two on its website abnd a toke presence on a stall in the market..
For instance, a letter included with the council tax demands would have reached every household in the borough – and would surely have attracted considerably more support.
As it is, 1,700 signatures is only about 2½ per-cent of the population and when push comes to shove, we would guess that the larger the numbers the louder the voice of a petition is heard in Whitehall.
Not for the first time, the Worst Street motto – Quoque Paulo Nimium Sero (Too Little, Too Late) – springs to mind.
Our best chance now is that Mr Grayling remembers his previous enthusiasm for a Boston bypass – including a BBC interview at the end of last year when he said: “I'm hoping that as we develop the bypass fund some of those towns in Lincolnshire that are desperately in need of a bypass - the obvious one that has been on the stocks for all these years in Boston in Lincolnshire, where I have no doubt there is going to be campaigning for the bypass to be an early project.”
“It's about unlocking the small towns that are seized up by congestion where journeys are just slower going through those town centres.”
Given the Worst Street fondness for winning badges – our breath is bated for the results on the In-Bloom competition – we wonder whether the borough has applied to enter this year’s Great British High Street Awards.
We don’t think the borough bothered last year and the closing date for this year is this Wednesday 22nd August.
The winner – to be announced at an awards ceremony in November – walks away with a £10,000 to spend on the community and there’s no real reason so to get involved, as the categories include a ‘rising star’ category and applications can be made by local councils, town centre partnerships, and chambers of commerce.
We could also have thought that Boston Big Local would be able to make a bid as well.
Three years ago we wondered whether someone was trying to tell us something when the list of councillors appointed to external organisations was published.
Three of them were appointed to the Sir Thomas Meddlecott Charity Trust.
The correct spelling of the trust’s name is Middlecott.
It seems that what they were trying to tell us was that no-one gives a monkey’s – as this year’s appointment repeated the inaccuracy.
The same is true of Worst Street’s spelling when it comes to one of our most long-celebrated events.
For some reason, the May Fair – so called because it is an annual fair which is held in May – is more often than not referred to as Mayfair … described as ‘an affluent area in the West End of London towards the east edge of Hyde Park, in the City of Westminster, between Oxford Street, Regent Street.’
Not only can the council not spell it – but this year has seen it miss an important opportunity for celebration.
Trading fairs or "marts" have been held in Boston since at least the 12th century, and the earliest historic record of one in the town is in 1132.
It ran from St. Botolph's Day (12th June) to 24th June.
And it was 800 years ago, in 1218, that a licence was granted for Boston's fair.
The earliest maps of Boston date from that time and the "Market Place" is indicated on them in its current location.
Once a year the London courts would close so that everyone had a chance to visit the May Fair –when goods at the time such as spices and wines were rare, but could be bought fresh from the port.
What a missed opportunity – a chance to stage a medieval style fair as part of an overall celebration of Boston’s heritage … one which we first mentioned a year ago.
Still with the subject of events – we note that Worst Street is bringing back open air cinema to Central Park in mid-September.
Last year – despite warnings – the first show was delayed because it was still too light and on the second week there were complaints of delays in starting, with the film eventually getting underway at 8-30pm.
This year, the gates are opening at 6pm according to the Visit Boston website – 30 minutes earlier than last year. However, the promotions appearing on WorstWeb give the time as 6-30pm, but no time has yet been given for the film to be shown.
It also seems that Worst Street may have conflated the ticket prices – perhaps from last year.
According to the borough website, an early-bird ticket will save “up to £18” on a family ticket (two adults and two children.)
“There will be standard online tickets available when all the early-bird ones have gone and tickets will be available on the gate – £30 for a family ticket, adults £10, concessions £9 and children £8.
“But if you book now you could claim a family ticket for a reduced price of just £18.”
By our reckoning, £18 is a saving of £12 – not £18 – on £30.
Unless of course, you buy them individually – two adults and two children – in which case they don’t constitute a family ticket, do they?
Turn to the handbill for the event, and the whole business of pricing becomes a matter of pick’n mix.
At the top, we are told “Standard ticket prices: Adults £7, Children £5, Family ticket £21 and concession £6.
But lower down, the prices are different.
“Early bird prices: Adults £5.50, Children £3.50, Concession £4, Family Ticket £15.
“On the gate tickets: Adults £10, children £9, family ticket £30, concession £9.
We sincerely hope that whoever worked out this mathematical maze doesn’t combine the role with a job in the finance department.
As was the case last year, Worst Street is plugging the fact that “There will be a bar, soft-drink refreshments, popcorn and sweets available.”
In a Public Space Protection Order area?
A bar was also promised last year – but after some criticism was kicked into touch.
As people rightly questioned: was it really necessary to have a fully licensed bar at an event essentially aimed at children?
Shortly afterwards, Worst Street announced: “This is a family-focused event and there will not now be a licensed bar and patrons are reminded that consumption of alcohol in Central Park is not permitted.”
Have things changed between last year and this, we wonder?
We don’t think so – so why is a bar on the cards yet again?
Our holiday/silly season fortnightly publication schedule continues – and our next blog will be on Monday 3rd September.
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