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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Asbo man 'breaks law' by laughing

A SCOT is facing a court appearance on a criminal charge for laughing – because he is subject to an antisocial behaviour order.
Stuart Hunt was charged by police after he laughed at the daughter of one of his neighbours. The two families have been embroiled in a bitter feud for six years.

Hunt, 46, claims the youngster was gesturing at him as he drove home after dropping off his children at the local school in Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness.

He claims that all he did was smile, shake his head and laugh as he passed the girl in his car. Hunt has now been accused of breaching a ban on laughing, which was a condition of one of the most unusual Asbos imposed by a Scottish sheriff.

The interim court order, granted in May 2007, imposed a series of restrictions on Hunt, a house husband whose disagreement with his neighbours, Stuart and Shirley Latham, dates back to a dispute over speed bumps he placed on an access road they share.

The Asbo prevents him from laughing at people, staring at anyone or slowly clapping his hands at the actions of others. He is also banned from waving objects at people and adopting a menacing stance.

"I am being systematically criminalised," he said. "There must be terrorist suspects who have more human rights than I've got here."

He added: "Two police officers turned up at my house and charged me with breaching the Asbo by laughing at the neighbours' daughter. They charged me with laughing – specifically and only with laughing. I couldn't believe it. It's absolutely absurd."

Hunt acknowledges that one of the conditions imposed as part of the interim Asbo means that he is prevented from laughing anywhere in the area covered by Highland Council.

But he insisted: "I don't feel I did anything wrong. I had just dropped my kids off at school and was driving back home when I passed my neighbours' 15-year-old daughter and another girl.

"The neighbours' daughter was on the pavement and making gestures. I just drove past and kind of looked at her and smiled and laughed. That was it. I didn't make rude gestures or stop the car or shout at them. All I did was smile and shake my head. And now I am waiting to hear if I will be taken to court."

Hunt's possible court appearance is the latest twist in a long-running row between the neighbours, which began after he placed speed bumps on the road outside his home, claiming that his neighbours were speeding past.

But the neighbours won the right to have the bumps removed, following a £50,000 court action at Inverness Sheriff Court.

Hunt was later convicted of assaulting his neighbour and was fined £200 at the local district court.

He subsequently appeared in court accused of breaching the Asbo by allegedly shouting at his neighbour.

Stuart Latham, a teacher who moved with his family to Drumnadrochit from Southampton six years ago, said: "As an individual incident, laughing might seem fairly insignificant, but this has been one of a multitude of what look like individual trivial incidents but are aimed at intimidating my children with the probable aim of trying to get at my wife and I as a result of an ongoing civil dispute in which he has been found wanting.

"It's actually quite farcical when you have to resort to trying to get at children. It's rather juvenile and immature behaviour for a grown man, it's sick really."

He added: "We have come up to the Highlands for a peaceful life and just want to be left alone. My children should be able to walk along the right of access we share with Mr Hunt without fear of intimidation."

A spokesman for Northern Constabulary confirmed: "A 46- year-old man has been charged with an alleged breach of an antisocial behaviour order and a report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal."

However, Susie Squire, the political director of the Taxpayers' Alliance, attacked the potential prosecution. She said: "This is an absolutely absurd case and it is an utter waste of police time at a time when police resources should be put towards more bobbies on the beat and fighting crime in the whole community. To threaten to prosecute someone for laughing is absolutely ridiculous."

Under orders: some of the stranger restrictions

A 23-year-old woman who repeatedly threw herself into the Avon was served with an Asbo banning her from jumping into rivers or canals.

• A man with mental health problems was banned from sniffing petrol anywhere in Teesside.

• A woman living on an estate in East Kilbride was given an Asbo ordering her not to be seen wearing her underwear at her window or in her garden.

• A 49-year-old homeless man in Glasgow was handed Scotland's longest-ever Asbo – a 99-year ban from the Gorbals branch of the Somerfield supermarket chain, following three incidents of racially aggravated assaults against Afro-Caribbean staff.

• A Rugby man was ordered to stop borrowing money from a friend.

• A man in Clackmannanshire was barred from shouting at his television.

• A man from Wales was banned from hospitals except in real emergencies after he faked drug overdoses to stay in hospital.

• An 18-year-old from Swindon was banned from playing football in the street.

• A Somerset man was banned from having a rooster.

• A country and western fan from Leeds, who plagued neighbours by playing Dolly Parton songs around the clock, was banned from playing music in her home.

• A 47-year-old man from Dundee was ordered to stop appearing naked at his front door and singing opera arias to passers-by.

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