Newtownards judge says taking 'low level neighbour disputes' to court are 'not a good use of police time'

Newtownards judge says taking 'low level neighbour disputes' to court are 'not a good use of police time'

A JUDGE in Newtownards said if local PSNI chiefs had to sit through court cases involving "low level neighbour disputes" they may realise it is 'not a good use of police time'.

District Judge Mark Hamill was speaking as he dismissed a charge of harassment and two charges of causing criminal damage to kerbstones which were faced by a 62-year-old Bangor woman.

Rosemary Brownfield, of Primacy Road, contested charges of harassment between June and October in 2020 and causing criminal damage to a kerbstone on September 10, 2020, and also on October 9, 2020.

Her next door neighbour Julie Wright told the court there used to be a fence between their driveways but then plant pots were placed there.

Ms Wright alleged to the court plant pots were knocked over; bins were moved and on two occasions kerbs were "driven over".

She also alleged the was shouted at and called names.

Judge Hamill told Newtownards Magistrates Court (main picture): "One thing I devoutly wish is that the Sub-Divisional Commander for Newtownards would sit in this court and sit through all this video evidence in the context of the policing of this area.

"The amount of time and police time going in to watching videos is quite astounding in the context of other police activities that could be carried out in this area."

The judge said it was criminal case in the criminal court and had to be proved to the criminal standard, beyond a reasonable doubt.

"I am well versed in neighbour's disputes coming to this criminal court and this is a typical neighbour's dispute - harassment allied to criminal damage".

He said there was "video evidence of which the complainant had complete control - editor, director, producer - which has been made available to this court".

Judge Hamill said apparently there had been a fence between the neighbours "but for some strange reason it was removed, probably because it is difficult to open a car door".

He added: "Strong fences make good neighbours. There is a cliche for you which applies to this case".

He said the fence was replaced by the complainant with a low row of kerbstones and a row of pot plants.

The judge said if the defendant reversed her car into the driveway it was difficult to see the kerbstones and pot plants.

Judge Hamill said reference had been made to a "deliberate kicking over" of pot plants but said there was no video evidence.

He said the height of the case captured on video was a car reversing close to pot plants and both women appear to have "some sort of exchange from their respective drive ways".

The judge said the video evidence "does not get anywhere near the criminal threshold".

He added: "I find it extraordinary that so much police time, let's not mention court time, has been devoted to such a low level neighbour's dispute.

"I wish that the Sub-Divisional Commander could somehow be made to sit through this; sit through all the video evidence so that maybe he or she could say 'well maybe you know this is not a good use of police time, police resources'.
I want this message to go out to the police dealing with neighbours disputes in this area."

The judge said he was "sick and tired" of such disputes and added: "Unless there is some serious public disorder or unless there is a report of weapons, deal with it by way of advice and warning.

"Part of the warning should be: 'Do you want to come and take up the time of this Criminal Court? This Criminal Court is liable to order you to be bound over whether you are the complainant or the defendant.

"The police should be very reluctant to take up the time of their own officers, let alone the time of this court, with low-level neighbour disputes of this nature.

"So let neighbours who want their day in court have their day in court. Please be my guest, have your day in court, but go to the Civil Court at your own expense. This is a waste of police time and a waste of this court's time. Case dismissed.

"It should never have been before a criminal court and at the expense in police time, court time and legal aid".

The judge rejected a prosecution application for a Restraining Order against the accused.