Flowerbed complaint woman sues council

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The Independent Online

A woman who was labelled "potentially violent" after she complained to a council about a vandalised flowerbed today sued for the authority for libel.

The High Court heard Jane Clift, 43, contacted Slough Borough Council's Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator in August 2005 after she witnessed a small boy misbehaving in the town's Rest Gardens.

She told a London jury, before Mr Justice Tugendhat, that the boy "was in the middle of one of the big flowerbeds, uprooting plants, pulling the heads off flowers, generally trampling among them, squashing everything".

She added: "I noted there were adults in the park but no-one seemed to be supervising him."

Ms Clift, of Bottetourt Road, Birmingham, said that when she approached five adults sitting on a bench and pointed out what the child was doing, one of the men became abusive and asked what it had to do with her.

She said the man had threatened to "smash the lot" and started jumping up and down on the flowers, before one of the women told him to "leg it".

Ms Clift said that she thought he was going to assault her and called the police, who arrived after 40 minutes, spoke to the child's mother and advised Ms Clift to contact the council.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Ms Clift, said that when she did get in touch, the authority's Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator Fozia Rashid was "very dismissive" and said any criminal damage was a matter for the police.

Mr Tomlinson said Ms Clift was told that she had been provocative and should have left the area.

He said: "Jane Clift was very shocked at being accused of being the source of the problem.

"She is trying to be a good citizen, report anti-social behaviour, do the right thing and is being told it is all her fault."

He said that the former care worker was "understandably furious, frustrated and angry", and slammed the phone down so hard that she broke it.

When she rang to complain about Ms Rashid's attitude, she told another council worker that as far as she was concerned Ms Rashid could "drop down dead" and followed the matter up with a letter.

Mr Tomlinson said Ms Clift wrote: "I felt so affronted and so filled with anger that I am certain I would have physically attacked her if she had been anywhere near me.

"I truly am not of that nature and so, surely, this should act as a wake up call to the borough as to the capacity she has for offending people."

Mr Tomlinson said that, in November 2005, Patrick Kelleher, the council's Head of Public Protection, told Ms Clift that a marker would be placed against her name for 18 months as a result of her allegedly "violent and threatening behaviour".

Ms Clift brought her claim against both the council and Mr Kelleher on the basis that she was libelled by the entry of her name on the council's Violent Persons Register and by an email sent to a large number of people informing them of this.

Her counsel said that to put Ms Clift on the register was "completely ridiculous" and a "serious and damaging libel".

He added that the fact that this was done so long after August suggested that it was "put-up job" and an attempt to silence Ms Clift for being too persistent by half.

Slough Borough Council and Mr Kelleher deny libel, claiming justification and qualified privilege.