'Worst neighbours in Britain' forced into rural retreat: A family of 11 accused of making life 'sheer hell' have been driven off an estate. Rhys Williams reports

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'I HEAR a loud bang or noise at night and think, 'Oh my God, it's them again, they're back.' That's the effect they've had on us. It's hard to believe at times that one family took over the whole estate.' For a year this woman, who refuses to be identified, lived across the road from the family branded the worst neighbours in Britain.

John and Mary Pitt have nine children, aged from 24 down to 5 - Margaret, Rosemary, Lynn, Linden, John, David, Nancy, Sonia and Paula; four Rottweilers; an Old English sheepdog and a cat. For nearly a year, all 17 (another son is in prison) lived in a three-bedroom council house in Ashington, Northumberland.

But hounded by neighbours for several months, they finally left last November. They now live 50 miles away in a caravan in a field just off the A1. They have running water, but only from an outside tap prone to freezing up.

Visitors are not welcome. They want the caravan's location kept secret. 'Look at what's happened to us,' Mrs Pitt pleaded as she slammed shut the door. 'Look at how we're having to live. We've been hounded out by nasty people spreading their nasty stories.'

But Jean Steele, who claims the Pitts caused her father and sister to have nervous breakdowns, is unmoved. 'They don't deserve any sort of peace. They should have been sent to hell for what they did to my family.'

So what was the problem? First there were the Rottweilers. Judie, the ageing sheepdog, was harmless. But Rocky, Hulk, Sheena and Sheeba unloaded so much excrement in the garden and on the estate that the stench forced the Timsons, the Pitts' next-door neighbours in Ashington, to call in environmental health officers.

Mary Summerbee, who lived opposite, said the dogs leapt into her yard one day. The fright gave her a heart attack. Another neighbour said two of the Rottweilers attacked her Labrador.

Then there was the noise. On top of the continual shouting matches, there were the motorbikes; ridden up and down the pavement through the night and revved up in the kitchen.

The heavy metal music came on at midnight and carried on until dawn. When William Elgie, who lived next door to the Pitts on the Meadow Well estate in Tyneside, went round to complain, the Pitts would bang on his living room wall with a sledgehammer. The plaster cracked on his wall and ornaments fell off a cabinet and smashed.

For four weeks, Bill and his second wife, Elizabeth, escaped the din by spending nights in their car on North Shields quayside. Their daughter Doreen, a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer, was forced to move out of the specially converted council house. Bill suffered a nervous breakdown and soon followed.

One week later the Pitts left after more than 100 residents had petitioned North Tyneside council. Ms Steele, Bill's eldest daughter, said her father was 'shattered' by the experience. 'My family lived through sheer hell. I wouldn't have wished it on my worst enemies.' They moved into their own house in Ashington before being made homeless by a fire. Obliged to rehouse them, Wansbeck District Council moved them to Beechway in November 1992. It was a condition of their bail they stay in the town. John and Mary are accused of burning down their house and trying to claim the insurance.

Within a month of the Pitts arriving in Beechway, their new next-door neighbours, the Carters, moved out. Leonard and Milly Timson, who have lived on Beechway for 25 years, stayed. Deprived of sleep and peace of mind, Leonard had a stroke and now shuffles around with a stick.

The neighbours repeatedly lobbied Wansbeck council to have the Pitts moved. But Alan Dodd, district housing officer, said he could not substantiate many of the neighbours' complaints, raising suspicions of a vendetta against the family. Mrs Pitt claimed neighbours were seeking revenge because Michelle Warnes, daughter of their other next-door neighbours, had moved in and was pregnant by one of the Pitt sons, David.

When Channel 4's Cutting Edge camera crew arrived one day last September to film the family, they found the house under siege. All the windows had been smashed and outside a small crowd of people were chanting 'We want them out, we want them out.'

Later in the day the crew was invited inside, where they were told there would be another attack that night. It failed to materialise. The following day the team returned to Beechway to continue filming. One crew member said: 'We sensed real tension - there was blood in the air. A lot of the neighbours had started to drink and intimated that something might happen that night. We told the police and said that we were moving out as we might be the cause.'

The Pitts held out for a further two months before finally packing up last November and moving to the caravan.

In refusing to bow to pressure to rehouse the Pitts, Wansbeck council told residents: 'Moving the problem doesn't solve it.' But in the end, it has. The family is no longer Wansbeck's responsibility because they left voluntarily. And bar a flock of sheep, the Pitts no longer have any neighbours.

Cutting Edge, Channel 4, at 9pm tonight.

(Photographs omitted)

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