It is now just under two years since the petitioners of the Armando Martins Campaign asked Canterbury City Council to re-instate Armando Martins’ amateur radio antenna, – after it was ordered to be removed following an act of mobbing.
Acting on behalf of the mob, council workers had successfully curtailed Armando’s hobby causing him to move. After he moved, council workers continued to interfere with his lifestyle for several months and he was subsequently refused planning permission despite asking specifically to move to a place where he could use his property. The impact of this struggle, a journey lasting over several years, was to thoroughly depress, stress and demoralise him.
The immediate aim of this campaign in late 2016 was to expose the nature of his treatment and counter the behaviour he encountered by resolving the issues raised by all parties. We wanted the council to fully re-instate his statutory and human rights (to develop and use his property.) These rights had been arbitrarily put to one side in order to satisfy his assailants.
A second case we reviewed (case 2) was used to compare Armando’s experience with. This came to court in March 2018. It resulted in the assailant being found guilty of assault and given a conditional discharge. The victim in case 2 is currently enjoying a respite from the bullying he received over 25 years of living in the vicinity of a toxic neighbour and is able to get on with his life.
Both victims are now able to get on with their lives. Armando was removed to safer accommodation, and, while he has now regained his lifestyle and thanked the council, he cannot yet draw a line under the whole experience, due to the number of avoidable incidents involving council workers and the way his planning application has been handled, which infringed his rights and flaunted various policies.
Case 2 approaches a similar junction, the council workers he encountered have been very helpful, not so the police, as they refuse to acknowledge the offence of stalking was being committed, or do anything about the surveillance cameras overlooking the victim’s property.
Where it could, the campaign gave Armando help to resolve the incidents and acted as agents and advocate, helping him through three incidents; a complaint to the local government ombudsman, a planning application and its subsequent appeal. Our approach was to walk with him during this part of his journey and share his experience.
Currently Armando is pursuing legal action against the council staff who he thinks have helped, by breaching his rights. He means to recover costs and make sure others don’t get the same treatment.
In September 2018 there is a noticeable difference to Armando’s outlook. Over a cup of tea in the radio shack at his new home, we were listening to an Italian radio station making contacts with many other countries across the globe. By October 2018 he has himself made contacts in North and South America, the Indian Ocean and Europe using his latest antenna, and he is building up a steady number of contacts with pins on the world map – proving the aerial is doing its job. He is now in the process of improving his garden and living accommodation, and looking after his health while planning a future expedition.
Learning Opportunities – Armando
For 78 year old Armando, the last six months have been good for learning about radio, and this year’s focus has been on how to get good transmitting performance, with the minimum of local impact, while complying with the planning laws governing his experimentation with aerials in the back yard. (These are set out in the national planning policy framework (NPPF) (revised in July 2018) and related documentation, the most important being Planning Policy and Guidance No 8 – Telecommunications.)
Lessons Learned by the Campaign
The campaign was also learning. To get to this point, we studied and consulted planning experts at the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB). As an organisation the campaign put the views of its forty three thousand signatories to the UK Planning Authorities and the Radio Society as well as the council and housing departments involved.
These conversations are worth recording primarily because they answer the question why is nobody listening and why can’t I get a quick, simple and accurate answers to my questions about planning or support from the planning system when it goes wrong for me?
After consulting Armando’s MP he was directed (rightly) to complain to the ombudsman. This is still in progress after more than six months.
A further case came to light which highlighted the nature of the problem of consistency between different LPA’s when dealing with licensed radio amateurs. John Carpenter, A licensed radio amateur from Cornwall had written a short piece about how his LPA had forced him to apply for planning permission for an antenna which normally wouldn’t need it costing him £500 for plans and the process. (Source: Gary Myers – https://www.m0plt.me.uk/#planning).
Since the conversation with Gary circa 29th October the importance of these conversations has been realised:
- Public Consultation Process ( Follow Link). This is the official means of making change in government. Complaining about problems to your MP puts the complainant in a minority and you will be directed elsewhere – usually the ombudsman. Democratic process allows for public consultation and public consultations are used to make changes to plans and laws. Organisations and individuals can influence change via this process.
- Local Plans (Follow link). This is about shaping where you live. Since 2012 each local authority has been directed to make their own local plans in consultation with local people. These are the rules that the LPA is more likely to use to make planning decisions. Martins local plans are devoid of anything that would make obtaining planning permission easier for the radio enthusiast. Also they were written by the LPA and not the local people, he thinks radio amateurs weren’t consulted when they were compiled and therefore they don’t take into account this minority groups needs.
The RSGB acknowledged that Local Plans is a problem and said they would take part in consultations with the Department for Planning and Communities about the national planning policy framework.
Because of the above we were able to recommend that the parliamentary campaign to exempt amateur radio aerials from requiring planning permission take a different approach from November 2018. See Joint Statement Here
We concluded to make change in Amateur Radio needs the right people to do the right things at the right time using established principles and techniques.
The radio society guidelines on planning were re-published in September 2018. The campaign has two constructive criticisms for an otherwise welcome revision. It omits to appraise the significant changes made to planning policy and inform the reader of some important developments relative to them which changed in 2018. Also it ignores the Armando Martins Campaigns approaches to the RSGB over their attitude to neighbour bullying aka nightmare neighbours, abuse of licensed radio amateurs and the planning authorities. However it gives good planning advice.
Nightmare Neighbours and The RSGB
The RSGB’s current policy regarding the neighbour nightmare is that it takes a bystander role. According to the late Dr Tim Field, et al, bystanders tend to sit on their hands and indulge in victim blaming during encounters with bullies.
Normal Neighbour Behaviour
The RSGB puts getting on with the neighbours at the centre of its policy as a means for members to achieve their planning goals. See here for a report entitled A Neighbourly Nation: Through the Keyhole prepared by the COOP and Neighbourhood Watch. This provides some basic statistics about neighbour behaviour, establishing what good neighbours are and that 52% of people surveyed said they had good relations with neighbours.
Borderline Abnormal Behaviour
The report went on to say a quarter of people say their neighbours are less than courteous. We established that getting on with the neighbours is normative behaviour.
To support its view the Armando Martins Campaign also discovered through the work of Svenn Torgersen, PhD; Einar Kringlen, MD; Victoria Cramer, PhD a prevalence of people at large in the community exhibiting a dark triad of behavioural traits or personality disorders such as sadistic personality disorder. By comparing the traits of people exhibiting toxic behaviour with normal behaviour we concluded that there are small numbers of people in the target population of our study who are exposed to being victimised by neighbours with these traits. We conclude it’s no co-incidence to find in the target community of licensed radio amateurs people reporting toxic neighbour\council worker issues via social media, Seven cases have come to light – all in the south east of England. #MeToo
Because of the variation in reactions from these different mindsets, we say, while the majority of people benefit from great relationships with their neighbours, getting on with the neighbours should never be a pre-requisite to entering into a planning development.
In case study two, the victim’s normal neighbours allowed him to put antenna wires in their gardens and encouraged the diversity his hobby brought to the area. They were happy to learn about it. A toxic neighbour silently objected, and cut the wires in several acts of covert (and then overt) sabotage.
As we established that getting on with the neighbours is normative behaviour, we noted that toxic people have an ability to pass off their abnormal behaviour as normal, producing plausible lies, particularly when compromised etc.
By denying, or playing down the existence of toxic behaviour in communities, we think it exposes others, forcing them to take part in a range of undesirable or inappropriate behaviours. Some examples of which are:
- Opening the victim to coercive control.
- Encouraging the victim to indulge in bribery.
- Encouraging the victim to be false – by being nice to people they don’t really like.
- Exposure to emotional blackmail.
- Forcing avoidance behaviour, the victim hiding or limiting their activities.
- Victim blaming; Members of the community blaming the victim (for whatever he or she did to encourage the assailant.) Also members of the victims hobby community blaming the victim for bringing the activity into disrepute or for their own difficulties\behaviour.
- incitement (e.g. to retaliate).
The victim in case 2 said “the first sign of trouble is if you receive a veiled or overt threat when talking to your neighbours”. “Do we have to put up with that?” “Eyesore” etc. Unwelcome questions and remarks about your property are indicators that all is not well and will set hairs running. He records his assailant has many of the traits associated with sadistic personality disorder. Someone who spent time making up and trying to enforce a set of rules on his victim and raising the stakes when the victim doesn’t comply – reporting the most minor and sometimes made up “infringements” or “misdemeanours” to the police or the planning\housing authorities for his own pleasure. Victim 2 makes the point normal people are more forgiving and polite about mistakes and errors and don’t tell lies. All of his “errors” and “mistakes” were shouted at him – or were lies, made up and shouted at him in front of the other neighbours. His neighbours all feared the assailant – as a tyrant. “All of this was ignored by the police until he assaulted me”.
Both victims have had anxiety levels raised, and experienced sleeplessness and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, flashbacks about incidents and obsessing about retaliatory measures etc.
Once exposed the assailant represents a perpetual threat, which might not come directly, but via the planning department. Toxic people like to create fear. This is enhanced by anonymity. The perception is that planning authorities gather intelligence on “illegal” developments and this is something the toxic mindset uses. How the planning authorities react is a variable which causes fear – that the victim’s goals will be blocked and restricted – giving the assailant pleasure and something to gloat about.
Talking openly about what you do for pleasure is an open invitation to a toxic mindset.
The RSGB should explain its policy further.
Steven Way, a chartered building surveyor at Collier Stevens, was quoted in the Times on 8th April 2018 as saying, “Some people seem to think that rejecting their neighbour’s planning application is a way to get even if there is a history of distrust. Many disputes are rooted in jealousy.” He was talking about a high profile case which had been resolved by the courts.
When comparing the performance of Canterbury City Council in Armando’s case, with how Gravesham Borough Council dealt with Case 2, there are significant differences in the way housing and planning staff operate when nightmare neighbours attack. The former it is suggested, are more open to being used to abuse.
Gaming the System
The Armando Martins Campaign concludes: There is enough evidence to prove there are toxic people at large in our communities. These are people with the type of mindset that would willingly exploit “the planning system” for their own (sadistic) pleasure. When they don’t have the power to get at their neighbours they can tap into a ready source. Willing council workers who flaunt government and local policy to coerce them into compliance.
Pot luck for the victim who depends on the skills of policy makers, council workers and police to detect and rectify sometimes criminal behaviour, only to find more of the same or limited services. One further learning experience involves discovering just how much effort is needed to deal with nightmare neighbours because of the protective envelope of bureaucracy and lack of support for victims. This in itself is a weapon in the right hands. Victim blaming also brings victim punishment from people who role themselves as by-standers. The reaction of authorities when asked for help, may well take the form of more bureaucracy – being forced into complaint systems, appeal systems and judicial services that are designed not to be productive but to coerce people into giving up.
During the petition phase of the campaign we listened to lots of opinion, and contacted responsible people in: Canterbury City Council and East Kent Housing, The Department for Community and Planning and the Planning Inspectorate, and also the Radio Society of Great Britain, these organisations also all played a hand in getting to this point. We were particularly inspired by the contribution of people on Facebook especially the un-official Radio Society of Great Britain and Amateur Radio UK groups for sharing their experience and views (and for not booting me out).
What does success looks like?
Not all opinions were appropriate or agreeable, and some conflicted with the campaigns view’s. They did however tell us what success would look like and how it would be achieved, by influencing these organisations in variable degrees. For example with the radio society who supported us with planning advice, and who have recently updated their guidance which was outdated and inaccurate. We think we even managed to re-focus their strategy by highlighting the benefits for elderly people of hobbies, by pointing them towards good practice such as the Men’s sheds movement. We notice the RSGB has broadened their strategy in that very direction. We also came across taboos, and people unwilling to stand up for Armando – blaming him for his situation. That’s not unusual, it is human. Nonetheless an inappropriate value in this day and age. Also we passed on the requirement for changes, to the national planning policy framework team and after evaluating it for the planning inspectorate, are reasonably sure there is to be change in the areas we highlighted.
They think it’s all over…
We could leave it here but Armando thinks if we do, sooner or later he or somebody else will face this treatment and therefore he is now taking action aimed to close the problem down for everyone. To support him he asks you to view his crowdfunding page here and join him in taking further preventative measures. The campaign remains open for business, because it is simply not OK to witness such behaviour and do nothing.
A draft constitution covering the forward plan to raise funds to support a legal challenge has been raised.
The Armando Martins Campaign and subsequent crowdfunding is to cover legal costs that enable Armando Martins to be fairly represented in court. As others have been treated the same as Armando we want to prevent further occurrences of abuse and provide help and advice for others in similar situations – filling a gap in the RSGB’s services. We think the way to achieve this is to set a legal precedent and to be an organisation and continue campaigning. IT’s NOT OK. Until then we want to raise funds to keep “old timers” on the air until they choose to stop, especially when their circumstances change. This is to combat loneliness and breakdown in mental and physical health. We are open to all radio amateurs who find themselves in difficulty after their antenna systems and plans have been interfered with or their legitimacy misunderstood. In the interim we will develop a process for tackling unfair decisions by council officials based on Armando’s experience and make it available to others. When there is a fair and consistent process we will close the campaign. When the campaign winds up, surplus funds will go to a charity such as Men’s Sheds.
Any money raised will be kept in a non-registered charity account. (Any money collected temporarily and currently goes into a business account). Nominated officials are: Mac McDonald, John Rivers, Stuart Dixon and Ian Hope.