Tuesday, 2 October 2007

After 11 years of TORMENT we had to move house

After 11 years of TORMENT we had to move house

Abbygail Donaldson and her family lived in constant fear for over a decade after being targeted by yobs until finally they were forced to flee their home. Here Abbygail, 40, tells her story.

Exhausted, I crawled into bed for an afternoon nap as I'd slept terribly the night before. But a few minutes later I was woken by a loud smash and felt something heavy land beside me.

"Don't move," my husband Paul, 45, said as he dashed into the room. Yet again a brick had been hurled through our window, shattering the glass all over me. Paul had to carefully pick each shard out of my hair and off the bed before I could safely move.

For years we'd been tormented night and day by gangs of youths on our estate. They had turned us into virtual recluses and I'd been so badly affected I'd even developed epilepsy and would often lose my memory after seizures. But nothing could erase the trauma we'd suffered over the past decade.

It all began when we moved onto a housing estate in the North East. Paul bought the former council house as part of the first stage of a redevelopment programme. The estate had a bad reputation but the council had started to evict problem tenants. However, as private landlords invested in houses, it wasn't long before they were back.

Trouble erupted when a female neighbour saw two youths breaking into a house nearby and asked to use Paul's phone to call the police. She was too frightened to use her own in case she became a target.

And so Paul was branded a "grass," and when the word was daubed in 4ft-high letters across the front of the house, it marked the beginning of a nightmare.

Overnight, the house was singled out by troublemakers. One morning, four young men burst through the door and barged their way upstairs.

Paul was sleeping in the bedroom but as he has hearing problems I couldn't shout up to warn him. Terrified, I froze to the spot and watched helplessly, praying they wouldn't hurt him.

Thankfully, they left empty-handed moments later, sneering rude comments as they went. They wanted to frighten us and they'd succeeded.

We called the police but we didn't know the culprits' names so nothing could be done. From then on, the attacks became more menacing.

One of the worst incidents happened when Paul and I were heading home from a night out in town and we came across one of the estate ringleaders.

"Grass," he hissed. My legs turned to jelly as Paul and I tried to stay calm and ignore him. Then I realised he was carrying a wooden baton. He started waving it around like a sword. He looked like a madman as he turned to Paul and hit him with it.

"Help!" I screamed, hoping someone living nearby would hear. Somehow, Paul managed to wrestle his attacker to the ground, just as I noticed a woman coming towards me. I put my hands out to push her away but moments later, I was being dragged by my hair. I began to lose consciousness.

Help eventually arrived and Paul and I were taken to hospital. "They'll get them this time," I thought as I was carried to the ambulance.

Amazingly, Paul and I had suffered only minor injuries and were allowed home. But nine days later, we were taken in for questioning - our attackers had claimed we'd started the fight!

We were absolutely horrified when no charges were brought against them.

Between 1997 and 2004, hardly a day passed without incident. Gangs of lads jumped up and down on the roof of our car, strangers walked into our house and we were burgled.

Drunks used our garden as a hang-out and urinated in our letterbox. One time, our furniture was strewn on the grass outside. The yobs put the windows through so many times we eventually replaced them with the material used to make riot shields.

One evening, when my daughter from a previous marriage, Sophie, was still five, I was reading to her in bed when I heard the letterbox rattle.

Walking onto the landing, my lungs filled with smoke. Paul was watching TV in the front room. "Quick Paul!" I shouted down to him, just as an explosion rattled the house.

Somebody had put a firework through the letterbox. Something inside me snapped and I headed out into the street. I came face to face with a lad carrying a box of matches.

"It was you, wasn't it?" I yelled as he ran away. Back home, I called the police but I couldn't give them a name and it was our word against theirs.

Paul and I felt like open targets and I became a nervous wreck. We attended residents' meetings, and the police and local council made promises - but it made little difference.

When Sophie was eight, Paul and I had Alison, now eight. Going into hospital meant I had a break and I dreaded going back.

By now, Paul and I longed for a fresh start elsewhere but we couldn't afford to move out as we'd lose thousands on the house. Nobody would pay the full asking price.

We went through seven new cars as they were being torched or written off by the gangs. My nerves were shot.

When we did go out, Paul and I were always looking over our shoulders. The girls couldn't play outside for fear of threats - they even had to endure taunts they'd be raped - and when a petrol bomb was pushed through our door, they stayed with their nan. We were under siege and I became agoraphobic.

When Asbos were introduced, Paul and I hoped they'd make a difference. Twice, I testified in court, desperate to see the culprits locked up. They were always breaching their ASBOs.

I testified against the deputy leader of the gang and he was given unconditional bail pending sentencing. I was horrified, and my car was torched as punishment.

In January this year, we made progress when the gang ringleader and three of his cohorts were charged with conspiracy to commit arson.

They were refused bail and for two months Paul and I could breathe easy.

Overnight, the attacks stopped and I started to think we were over the worst. But to our horror, the case collapsed due to lack of evidence.

I felt frustrated and angry that the culprits had been given nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

As hard as it was, Paul and I agreed the time had finally come to surrender - never mind about losing money. We knew that unless we left the estate, we'd end up dead. In May this year, we moved to a new area. We've never been happier because we can sleep easy at night, knowing we are safe.

It's a problem across the country. I met then PM Tony Blair to tell him my story, but as for how much will be done about it, I just don't know.

But our lives are better now. The other day, my heart skipped a beat when I came across two teenagers standing at a nearby bus stop.

I expected them to hurl abuse my way but, to my surprise, they said a friendly hello. That was when I knew we'd made the right decision.


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