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6 December 1999

Driven from our dream home

New Statesman Scotland - After hearing threats, menacing complaints and even boasts of spyi

By Donna Campbell

Two houses later and we still haven’t escaped them. They can’t seem to stay away. Our very own neighbours from hell. If images have popped into your head of inner-city estates or squabbles over suburban leylandii, banish them.

This hellish tale unfolds in deepest rural Scotland. The neighbours didn’t even live in the adjacent houses, but were from England and let them as holiday cottages.

We were thrilled with our house when we bought it five years back. Chocolate-box pretty and, at the back, a big garden. To the front, a kind of courtyardy thing shared by two semi-detached cottages and a disused coach house. It turned out that these were sold only days after we bought our place.

Christmas came, then New Year. We had friends staying. After a walk in the hills, we drove back in the antique Land-Rover. As we all piled out we saw the new neighbour at his back window with the lights out. Watching us. Motionless. Weird.

Then after the friends had gone next day, John, my husband, saw the neighbour – let’s call him Thomas Carstairs. John called out: “Happy New Year!” And the reply came: “You can’t park there. That is, outside our own house. I’ve bought all this land.” Meaning the courtyard.

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John decided that sweet reason was the only solution and went to talk to Carstairs and his wife Hilda. Carstairs said he wanted the courtyard for the holiday- makers’ parking and that he was going to develop the coach house and that he would need parking for that. So we compromised on being allowed to park outside our own house meantime.

Relations warmed from then on. We had them to dinner, they came to a little party we held. Every weekend they came up for the holiday let changeover, we would be popping in and out of each other’s houses.

Then, last year, for reasons I still can’t quite discern, ice began to form on our friendship. I had recently been made redundant from my job and my guess was that they thought we wouldn’t be able to keep up our mortgage repayments and that they would like our house – cut price – to make the whole area into a little holiday enclave. And Carstairs began to make my life difficult; cutting the grass outside my office window in all weathers, trying to persuade BT to erect a new telegraph pole outside our bedroom windows, complaining about our drains.

I could see the writing on the wall. Hilda was getting nasty, too. She bragged to John: “We took our neighbours [in England] to court – and won.”

They had to move away. Who needs this crap? We decided to sell. Hilda once told me that she had binoculars and used to watch the daily activities of people who lived nearby in the big house. I was becoming frightened. A friend and local landowner knew of our plight and lent us a cottage a couple of miles away in the middle of a field. The only neighbours were sheep.

While I was away, John showed the house to a prospective buyer. As she left, Hilda intercepted her in the courtyard, telling her the house had lots of problems, giving their phone number and saying she ought to speak to Carstairs. Naturally, the prospective buyer phoned John that night.

She had lost interest in the house. John phoned Carstairs to find out what was going on. He went absolutely berserk, John said later. Screaming and shouting, he threatened John: “I haven’t even started with you and you’ll know when I’ve finished with you. I feel sorry for you, pal. You’ve no idea what she gets up to during the day when you’re at work.” Who, me? Chance would be a fine thing. I’m not exactly Michelle Pfeiffer. John was severely shaken. He phoned the police, who could do nothing – but were at least sympathetic. That was it. We left the house and everything in it and moved into the cottage with just a bed, a futon, my computer and the TV and video.

Meanwhile the house was advertised and there was loads of interest. The first person who made us a reasonable offer got it. We just wanted out of there. I, though, had been having serious misgivings about letting someone else go into that situation, I needn’t have worried. Carstairs showed his hand and shot himself in the foot in one stroke.

While the missives were being exchanged, Carstairs submitted a planning application to the local council to build a caravan park, campsite and parking for 20 cars.

Needless to say, our potential buyers suspended the missives. That was when true hell set in. We waited agonising weeks to see if they were going to withdraw from the sale. There was no TV reception in the rented cottage and the only video we had brought with us was The Lion King. We watched it nearly every night to try and take our minds off the affair. Crazy, I know.

As the legal owners of the property, we could object to the planning application. John wrote as if his life depended on it. I swear he had an angel on his shoulder as he typed. It was brilliant. It must have impressed our buyers, too – once they had sight of our objections they resumed the exchange of missives. And they now knew what Carstairs was.

We then bought a house in a small village 40 miles from where these events took place and moved this summer. After about three weeks, a package arrived. It was the book I’d loaned them. No note, but the message was clear: we’ve found you. We put it from our minds. Then a few weeks ago, John saw them in the village. Carstairs laughed maniacally, slammed the steering wheel with glee and drove away. I can’t watch Neighbours from Hell now. It makes me cry.

The planning application still hasn’t been before the council. But I guess the real moral of this tale is that no matter how joined-up the Scottish Parliament’s legislation gets, there exist perfectly legal means for one citizen to make another’s life pure and continuing hell.

Donna Campbell is a pseudonym