How a neighbourhood dispute over a left package led to court showdown
- Credit: Archant
It is something we often do for our neighbours.
But when Reuben Cherry asked his neighbour Neil Thomas to collect a package which was being delivered for him in December 2013, the tree surgeon refused.
Mr Thomas said Mr Cherry had asked him several times to take packages at his home in the south Norfolk village of Deopham – even when he was at home.
This time he did not want to pick up the television being delivered for Mr Cherry.
After that, the Vicarage Road neighbours stopped talking – and a few months later Mr Cherry, 37, called the police about Mr Thomas practising archery in his garden and cutting his hedge.
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The disquiet in the heart of Deopham has now led Mr Thomas, who has two young children, to put his bungalow up for sale, he said in despair that a conviction for harassment which Mr Cherry was given for his behaviour towards him has now been overturned.
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'He was fine with us for the first year,' Mr Thomas said.
But complaints between the neighbours followed the 42-year-old's refusal to take the television delivery.
After a few weeks of not speaking, Mr Cherry complained to police that he had heard his neighbour spread rumours about him in Deopham.
Mr Thomas denied this.
He also complained to police in April 2014 about the father-of-two using a long bow in his garden, saying it made him feel vulnerable and was dangerous.
Police said Mr Thomas was entitled to practise archery in his garden.
There was a further complaint when the tree surgeon cut the hedge between their gardens.
The police have visited the family's house on several occasions after Mr Cherry called officers about him.
But he said: 'I did not make an excessive number of complaints (to police), I simply reported matters as they arose.'
Mr Thomas, in turn, said he has also rung the police about Mr Cherry allegedly staring through his window from the village recreation area opposite their bungalows.
In February 2015, Mr Cherry put in a complaint to South Norfolk Council about Mr Thomas, believing his neighbour was a councillor there.
In the complaint, he claimed Mr Thomas had broken the councillor's code of conduct by circulating false allegations about him in Deopham.
They passed him onto Attleborough Town Council, where Mr Thomas was serving as a councillor.
A few days after calling the council to make a complaint, Mr Cherry was given a Police Information Notice (PIN) which warned him to not harass Mr Thomas by contacting him 'directly or indirectly'.
'You contacted Attleborough Council making allegations that your neighbour, Mr Thomas, had been spreading rumours about you,' the notice read. 'These allegations… are unfounded and caused Mr Thomas and his partner worry.'
Mr Cherry claimed the harassment notice was used to stop him pursuing his democratic right to put in a complaint about a councillor.
'Anybody would have thought that there was some illegal activity taking place,' he said.
He ignored it, shocked to be given a harassment notice, and sent off the complaint form on March 17.
Breckland Council, which looked into the complaint, dismissed it.
But by making the complaint, Mr Cherry had broken the police notice given against him a few days earlier, due to the complaint constituting indirect contact with Mr Thomas.
THE COURT CASE
Mr Cherry was interviewed by police in April 2015 and was charged in July with harassment.
The charge sheet read the harassment consisted of him complaining to police about Mr Thomas using archery equipment and writing complaints to councils about him.
In a court case costing hundreds of pounds, Mr Cherry pleaded not guilty and a trial was held at Norwich Magistrates Court in May this year.
Mr Cherry defended himself and Mr Thomas said there was a bizarre scene in the trial when, as a witness, he had to be cross examined by his neighbour.
Mr Cherry argued he was a victim of harassment by Mr Thomas and said that he complained to the council because the police did not do anything when he complained.
He said he found it 'perverse' that he was prosecuted for harassment when he claimed he was the victim.
He argued the prosecution was an 'assault on democracy'.
Mr Cherry was found guilty by the district judge of one count of harassment in May and sentenced in June to an 18-month conditional discharge.
He was also given a restraining order to not contact Mr Thomas which lasts until next year.
But Mr Cherry appealed against his conviction and two months later, on August 5 at Norwich Crown Court, a judge overturned his conviction.
The judge said he was not satisfied that Mr Cherry's behaviour amounted to harassment and allowed the appeal 'with some reluctance'.
Mr Thomas claimed he had also complained to Mr Cherry's landlords
Saffron Housing about harassment but he said they have not done anything.
He said he is now selling his house to get away from Mr Cherry. 'I was really disappointed when the conviction was over-turned,' said Mr Thomas.
Mr Cherry approached the EDP after the successful appeal in August as he was keen to let people know the conviction he had for harassing Mr Thomas had now been over-turned. He claimed he was the real victim of harassment and saw it as sinister that he was convicted for trying to 'access local democracy'.
What the CPS and Saffron Housing say
•A CPS East of England Spokesperson said: 'We reviewed the case according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors – the standard against which all cases are reviewed – and were satisfied there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest for the case to go to court.'
The spokesperson added that there was no criticism of the CPS in Mr Cherry's successful appeal against his conviction and the judge did not award any costs to Mr Cherry.
•A spokesperson for Saffron Housing said: 'Saffron takes all reports of Anti-Social Behaviour seriously as we are aware of the impact such behaviour can have on the lives of tenants and others who are affected by it.
'If Saffron is advised of potential ASB in the neighbourhoods where we have homes this will be investigated and, where applicable, we will work alongside our partners (including the Police and the local authority) to resolve the matter.'
•Norfolk Constabulary did not respond to a request for comment
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