‘I was convicted of harassing neighbour for flying Jolly Roger flag and putting up garden lights’
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
What began as a row between neighbours over a compost heap has led to years of police investigations, a harassment conviction and a £17,000 legal bill. But the nine-year dispute continues.
Before Paul Loughlin and Yana Dodson go into their garden they put body cameras around their necks.
Their behaviour may seem extreme, but since 2010 they estimate 16 different police officers have visited, Mr Loughlin has narrowly avoided jail for harassment and they have to pay their neighbour £17,000 in compensation.
Now they want to make sure they have a recording of any harassment allegations the neighbour makes.
Police have called on them at their house on Ramsgate Street, Edgefield, responding to complaints about them mowing their lawn, trimming their hedges, flying a Jolly Roger flag and having rope lights in their garden.
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The complaints by the grandfather-of-ten's neighbour, whom we are not naming, date back to 2009.
Today, details of the staggering dispute are revealed for the first time.
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The case culminated in the businessman being found guilty of harassment in 2015 at Norwich Magistrates' Court. He was also given a restraining order.
In 2016, when the 54-year-old appealed his conviction, Judge Stephen Holt doubled his 12-week prison sentence to be suspended from one year to two years.
Mr Loughlin was also ordered to pay £17,000 compensation to cover his neighbour's legal bill and costs of re-landscaping her garden to block his pirate flag and rope light.
He said the conviction has had a huge impact on his life.
But in a witness statement to the court, the neighbour said Mr Loughlin's harassment had a 'devastating effect' on her life, destroying her enjoyment of her home and causing an 'incalculable' psychological impact.
Mr Loughlin's solicitor Rob Pollington, however, described it as 'one of the most disappointing cases' he had ever been involved in.
'It led me to question if I had been looking at the law incorrectly the whole time,' he told us.
The case against Mr Loughlin included flying a Jolly Roger flag which his neighbour could see from her garden, putting up lights, putting up a sign facing his neighbour's garden, playing loud music while his neighbour had a party and acting aggressively.
Despite the court case ending more than two years ago, Mr Loughlin and his neighbour are now locked in a boundary dispute which he said prevents him from moving on.
But he said he wanted to speak out to make public the amount of time police have spent on the dispute.
'We regularly see Chief Constable Simon Bailey on the news, claiming that the police is under resourced which prevents them from being able to investigate serious crimes thoroughly enough,' he said.
'Yet on a Saturday afternoon in June 2017, two officers arrive at our property and began to question us about a complaint of noise that they had received from our neighbours. The noise in question was me mowing our lawn, and Yana trimming the hedges.
'How much taxpayers' money has been wasted in three police investigations, a magistrates hearing and a Crown Court appeal in my case?'
The saga first began in 2009 when Mr Loughlin complained to the neighbour and to North Norfolk District Council about compost heaps at the bottom of the neighbour's garden which he said was causing a bad smell.
Then in 2010 Mr Loughlin, who moved to Edgefield from Hertfordshire in 2007, was first visited by police and given a warning about flying the pirate flag.
He said he had bought it on a day out to Cromer for his grandchildren so they could play pirates in his garden.
He lowered it on to his fence and flew an Irish flag on the pole instead.
In 2012 police also warned him about his garden rope light being displayed in an 'antagonistic manner'.
But one PC who visited his home in 2013 wrote the lights were 'dim' and at least 225 feet away from his neighbour's house.
The officer added the Jolly Roger flag could only be seen if someone walked down to the farthest point of the neighbour's garden.
Harassment allegations against Mr Loughlin were investigated by police in 2012 and 2013.
Both times he was questioned but officers dismissed the case.
A prosecutor, who reviewed the allegations at the time, wrote: 'Both sets of parties are utterly convinced that they are the victims of harassment.
'Objectively and evidently it is impossible to establish that in this case.
'No offence of harassment can be proven against any one of the parties'.
But Mr Loughlin then put up motion-activated wildlife cameras, on advice of police, to monitor his boundary.
He said his neighbour already had a CCTV camera pointing at his garden.
But in 2014 Mr Loughlin was arrested and quizzed by police again for having the cameras up.
This time he was charged with harassment and part of the case against him was having cameras which were intrusive to his neighbour.
He protested stating he did it on advice of police.
He was bailed until September 2015 when he was convicted by magistrates.
Mr Pollington, who represented Mr Loughlin in court, said: 'The court did not feel the irony of the fact that she (the neighbour) was videoing him was relevant.
'The neighbour couldn't see the flag from her house but that was deemed to be an act of aggression.'
Mr Loughlin said he wants to move on, but in 2014 his neighbour raised a boundary dispute about who owned four feet of land on his side of the garden, which is still ongoing.
His partner Yana Dodson said: 'We moved here for a quieter life.'
We have been unable to reach Mr Loughlin's neighbour for comment.
•The case against Mr Loughlin
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) argued in court in 2015 and 2016 that Mr Loughlin harassed his neighbour from 2009 to
The criminal case against him included:
Flying a skull and crossbones flag 'in full view' of his neighbour's property. He said he flew the flag for his grandchildren's pirate den.
Erecting a wooden fence panel in 2010 with a swear word on it which faced his neighbour's garden. He apologised and said it was in response to his neighbour installing CCTV looking towards his garden
Switching on fluorescent rope lights in his garden which police said were displayed in an 'antagonistic' manner
Being 'aggressive and intimidating' towards the neighbour in April 2012
Playing loud music when his neighbour had a party
Putting up a camera in August 2014 which pointed at his neighbour's garden
•Complaints about investigations
In response to the investigations, Mr Loughlin complained to the police's professional standards department about the way officers dealt with the case.
He was particularly aggrieved by the way police carried out door-to-door enquiries in the north Norfolk village in 2013 about him.
No evidence of harassment was found against him that time.
But when he complained to Norfolk police they rejected his complaint.
He appealed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and they partially upheld his complaint.
Mr Loughlin said: 'We have lost all faith in the police.
'But we are not going to sit here and take injustice.'
His partner Yana Dodson added: 'We loved it here when we first moved, but after the police door to door enquiries I would walk out of my house holding my head up high, but once I got past everyone I would cry.'
•What the police say
On visiting him for mowing his lawn in 2017, a police spokesman said: 'The police responded to a noise complaint and spoke to the people involved to ascertain whether there were any offences to investigate.
'There was not so no further action was taken.'
They said they conducted door-to-door enquiries in 2013 about Mr Loughlin because he had placed rope lights in his garden 'shaped in an offensive manner causing offence'.
Mr Loughlin said he simply hung the lights up.
They said: 'Mr Loughlin and Ms Dodson have been offered the opportunity to provide evidence of harassment by their neighbour, but have been unable to do so.'
The spokesman added Mr Loughlin's restraining order, which runs until 2020, stopped him contacting his neighbour in any way and displaying any sign within his own property which faces her property 'designed to cause harassment'.
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