The story starts when Armando Martins is living in a two storey, twin bedroom council house in Canterbury with his wife. At this property he had permission to install an amateur radio antenna which needed no planning permission according to the planning department at the time. He came into Thornhurst, to a single storey terraced bungalow in a sheltered housing complex in Herne Bay, after being persuaded by the housing department to give up his house for another family. This was after separating from his wife and losing the ability to climb stairs.
During the negotiating stages of the move, he specifically asked to take the antenna with him and downsizing was not included in the discussion. His hobby is a lifeline which provides him with activities and keeps him in touch with his community preventing loneliness. He obtained permission from housing to move the antenna and this was granted in an undated handwritten note from a housing officer. It contained the caveat “as long as it did not affect his neighbours”. (In a subsequent move he was given a full set of terms and conditions).
Welcome to our community
According to him, his neighbours were initially friendly but what happened next was that a conflict with his next door neighbour occurred over a shared passageway that she was continually blocking. The staff should have dealt with this but he was left to deal with it himself which caused the conflict. Her case was quickly taken up by another of his neighbours. Between them they began to target him in a personal vendetta.
As many neighbours as could be were turned against him and he was subjected to various episodes of bullying, targeting his property and lifestyle. Despite housing policy, which is live and let live, the staff were also drawn into the conflict, acting on behalf of the assailants through a technique known as DARVO – see below. When staff were slow to respond they were prepared to escalate. They were also prepared to go to extreme lengths using any means to achieve their aims, short of physical violence.
This eventually led to the involvement of two council departments, and the police, and when that didn’t appear to work, they decided to air their grievance in the local press and on national TV through the Channel 5 Nightmare Neighbours Next Door Programme.
Throughout his time there he was under surveillance and investigation – people were looking for things to use to attack him. To counter any protest he might raise, a strategy known as DARVO, common in bullying, was employed. (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender). This strategy switches the blame from the assailant to the victim. Just about everything he did, no matter how trivial, was being gossiped, reported or complained about. Housing department staff shared information about his living arrangements which enabled the attack on his antenna which was used as a stalking horse – see below.
Clearly this treatment had several aims; to cause him enough stress to control him, spoil his life, and get rid of him. He had a stark choice, move, or die from the stress having had a miserable life for several years.
Supporting the Victim
Not only did the staff not support him, according to the housing departments policy, when charges were trumped up against him and investigated by the police, they took no further action, no charges were made following the allegations against him – there was nothing for him to answer to. Had these two responsible agencies been capable of supporting him, recognised the techniques used, his status as a victim and then remained neutral, they might have done better. The management could have used its policy to deal with the neighbours, while the police could have squashed the allegations against him and dealt with the criminal acts of wasting police time and making false allegations – and the harassment. (The fact that the police in Kent do not know how to counter DARVO shows how powerful a technique it is. This problem extends to the entire legal system which often blames rape victims for their situation for example.)
Once they had learnt about the arrangement with the antenna it became the obvious target and was exploited by taking advantage of two weaknesses: Firstly the broad brush caveat about its use, and the second the lack of planning permission (which he didn’t need – according to the head of planning). The planning department was drawn into the conflict to issue the coup de grace. These facts were acted upon simultaneously and housing ordered the antenna to be removed after it was branded an eyesore.
Despite its policies and promises and those of the NHS and government, clearly visible to the public, via various websites, just about every policy available related to supporting him in the matter was systematically breached. According to NHS Policy Mr Martins hobby is a lifeline which if taken away could have serious implications for his Mental health. This was a life changing decision with a major impact on an old man. Council policy in making such decisions was not applied. 1 Million People in Great Britain suffer from Loneliness and his hobby is a direct line to his community outside of the sheltered accommodation. The number of missed opportunities suggests the local authorities are dis-functional and yet they claim to be supportive.
According to the housing departments anti-social behaviour policy he should have been allowed to get on with his life without interference. “live and let live”. It was East Kent Housings duty to be impartial, protect him and deal with any nuisance. Simply living up to its promises would have been reason enough for them to provide simple protective measures. The police could have used the harassment act 2012 and liaised with the anti-social behaviour team in the council. An Adult Protection Order could have been raised by anyone who knew of his struggle. When these were raised with the relevant people the message was very much self-help.
According to the conditions of the current policy for attachments and modifications to the building any issues or complaints raised would be worked through before permission was withdrawn and this would only be as a last resort. There is a discrepancy between this approach and that applied by the planning department.
Right to a Fair Hearing
None of the issues and complaints used in the attacks on Armando were valid and all could easily be refuted. For example it could have easily have been argued that what they called an “eyesore” was in fact a well-engineered set up, it could be hidden, was surrounded by trees, could be lowered to below rooftop height and it was within 150m of a substantially larger mobile phone mast, highly visible from the complex. We think the complaints were :. blown out of all proportion and the housing department saw the easy option, breaching their promise, forcing Armando into an unnecessary, difficult, stressful and costly process. The objections don’t stand up to scrutiny and were in fact all written by one person. Moreover:
- The supporting statements made during the application process are more valid than the objections.
- The health benefits from being able to have a hobby were not considered.
- The stress of having your life spoilt and living in a toxic environment were not considered.
The Race Card
There is every reason to think the motive for the attacks were both racial and sexist. Apart from Mr Martin’s, male parties are almost absent from the events and another male in the complex with the same aspirations was deterred from taking up his hobby by the same gang of females. It is noted the planning committee was harangued by one of the principal assailants who said he shouldn’t be allowed to play the race card. Nobody challenged her. Mr Martins is of Latin origin and his attitudes are typical of his own culture.
The planning process documentation we saw and the answers to the questions we asked from the planning department were not supported by any photographs or measurements.
The appeal decision seems to be centred around a harmful impact on living conditions in the local area, it does not enlighten the reader to what actual harm was being caused.
Because of the above, it is not easy to see why planning was refused. We think it would have been easier to refute the allegations had they been investigated in depth and we question what standards should be used when a decision with such an impact on the subject person is being made.
Mr Martins says that the planning committee were lobbied during their deliberations in an off the record meeting between one of the neighbours, and the head of the planning committee. If true this is a breach of the law.
After moving out of Thornhurst in March 2017 we think another crime has been committed under the harassment act 2012 as it is clear he has been deliberately harassed to the point he has been forced to move away.
Armando was recently moved to a new place in Canterbury. This was done under the assurance of the CEO of East Kent Housing, that he would be able to operate his ham radio station unimpeded at the new property. Conditions were set, he agreed to comply.
The latest? Armando completed his move on the eighth of March. He applied for permission to put in place a few very minor modifications to the property after being advised to do so by East Kent Housing. They advised him to apply for planning permission and he is minded to follow due process before putting any antenna up. Surprised to say he has not yet settled in, let alone had time to erect any antenna. So far this has worked well but see our update.