Council lawyers slated over harassment case

Southwark Council's legal department has been censured for its part in failing to evict a mentally disturbed man who harassed and threatened a terrified neighbour for more than 10 years.

A damning report by local government ombudsman, Edward Osmotherly, accuses the London borough's legal department of delay and inefficiency over its handling of the flat owner's complaints.

He has recommended that the council pay the woman £3,000 and has called on the legal department to meet with her to consider evidence relating to a possible eviction of her neighbour.

The report details how the woman and her young son were re-housed to a new flat by the council in 1984, which she later purchased, after she was raped by a unknown assailant.

Shortly afterwards, a schizophrenic man with serious drug and alcohol problems moved in downstairs.

There followed years of threatening abuse, noise and arson by the man who, the report stated, was so disturbed he had been thrown out of a psychiatric institution. This was despite repeated requests from the woman and her solicitors for the man to be dealt with or evicted, without success.

While the ombudsman's report criticises a number of other council departments, it also states there was delay and inefficiency by the legal department in taking action, and a lack of sufficient advice and supervision of junior legal staff by senior managers.

Southwark Council head of legal contract services Lyn Meadows said the ombudsman's report had been referred to the relevant council committee for consideration.

Meadows said many of the problems mentioned in the report occurred before 1993 when the legal department was reorganised to improve the handling of harassment cases.

“I am confident that a similar incident could never arise again,” stressed Meadows.

However, she was unable to confirm whether the woman's problems with her neighbour had been resolved.