Column: Love thy neighbour ... or not

A woman talking on her mobile phone. Picture posed by a model
A woman talking on her mobile phone. Picture posed by a model

They say you should love thy neighbour, but what if you live next door to the neighbour from hell? This is what happened to Sue and Keith Brookes when they moved into their dream home in Leicestershire. Sue, who grew up around the corner on a council estate, had always loved an Art Deco property called The Boathouse. So, after setting up her own successful company, Sue and husband Keith were delighted when her dream house came up for sale.

“We thought it was the perfect place to enjoy our retirement.” She explained.

But her dream soon turned into a nightmare when her neighbour Kathleen Neal launched a 12-year campaign of hate. Instead of chit-chat over the garden fence, Neal overturned wheelie bins, killed plants and lit endless bonfires by their hedge – sometimes up to four times a day – choking them with smoke. There were also a series of silent phone calls. But there had been no arguments over parking or putting out the bins. The only thing Sue had done wrong was to have come from a council estate. Indeed, her elderly mother still lived in the council property which backed onto their new home. This not only irked their neighbour, it positively brought out the ‘snob’ in her. One day, Neal was no longer able to contain herself and screamed: “Get back to your council house.” And: “We don’t want your sort around here.”

A touch of the Hyacinth Bucket (or Bouquet) methinks.

Last month, a judge at Derby Crown Court handed the 76-year-old neighbour a five-year injunction banning her from harassing the couple. If she breaks it, she faces prison or a large fine. Good, but why did it take almost 12 years? Relations initially broke down when Neal objected to the couple converting a derelict garage into a room, saying it would block her light. The council disagreed and allowed the conversion to go ahead. In 2004, Sue was in the garden when Neal accused her of not taking her dog out when she left the house. Sue was horrified, because their dog, Barley, was deeply loved. Shortly afterwards, Sue and Keith found garden tubs had been upturned. Thinking they had a problem with foxes, the couple installed a camera. They were stunned when it revealed the phantom plant pusher wasn’t a fox but Neal. Not only that, she’d had to scale a 5ft fence to get into the garden. But instead of confronting her, Sue wrote her a letter.

“I was worried she might fall climbing over the fence.”

It only fuelled Neal’s contempt and soon she’d taken to lighting up regular bonfires to smoke them out. The council finally intervened and then the police. Last year, officers tracked the silent phone calls to a pay as you go mobile phone. They paid Neal a visit, and when an officer dialled the number it rang in her pocket. She’d finally been cornered, but the police chose not to prosecute because the council had enough evidence for a civil case.

Well done to Sue and Keith for standing their ground. But how they managed to stand 12 years, I do not know. I would have turned the hosepipe on Neal years before. As for her snobbery, well, whilst Sue may have been born on a council estate (like myself), she ultimately has more class in her little finger than her neighbour could ever hope to have. It just goes to show, you can’t buy class.