Tag Archives: Paul Sylvester

NOT JUST ‘MS X’ – HOW BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL FAILS TO REHOUSE DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIMS

Web ExclusiveDo you want the good news or the bad news first?

Today The BRISTOLIAN can exclusively reveal that domestic abuse survivor ‘Ms X’ – whose case we featured prominently through November – has finally been rehoused. Yet this excellent news is overshadowed by figures released by Bristol City Council that show others like her face an astonishing SIX MONTH WAIT.

We understand that Ms X received the keys to her new home yesterday, following a rush of activity in recent weeks by senior council officials whose sudden interest in her case mysteriously only took hold after The BRISTOLIAN took up the cudgels in support. She had up until that point been ignored by the Service Director, housing managers and the Mayor’s office, despite being at a very real risk of serious violence from her abuser.

Meanwhile, after a long wait for the data on how many others like Ms X there are out there in Bristol, the council today responded to a Freedom of Information request by a BRISTOLIAN reporter with statistics that are EVEN MORE HORRIFIC THAN FIRST FEARED.

For the year 2012-2013, Bristol City Council received 396 applications for rehousing due to domestic abuse. Just 228 were rehoused – that’s a success rate of under 58%*. Incredibly, domestic abuse victims had to wait on average more than 185 days to be found a place of safety. ONE-HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE DAYS at risk of violence, sexual assault, mental torture and much more besides.

Whilst budget cuts have clearly made the situation worse over the past year, the figures show that this scandal has not appeared out of thin air. In 2008-09, UNDER 40% OF 224 ABUSED APPLICANTS WERE REHOUSED, with an average wait of 120.5 days.

The following year, 2009-10, there were more applicants – 275 – but better performance from the council, with 61% rehoused and the wait down to just over 112 days. 82% of 307 people were found safe homes in 2010-11, with the wait cut to three months – though that means there were still MORE THAN FIFTY PEOPLE AT RISK OF ABUSE LEFT OUT IN THE COLD.

However, by 2011-12, fewer than three-quarters of the 347 people seeking help were rehoused, with the wait jumping up to 132.4 days. As the data clearly shows, there has been a steady rise in the need for rehousing – NEARLY DOUBLING in just five years.

This comes at the same time that researchers at the University of Bristol have released findings from a study of homeless women in the city which show that nearly 80% had suffered domestic abuse in the past, with almost a quarter of them facing it currently or recently.

So just how are Bristol’s overpaid, self-regarding political élite – whether arrogant Mayor Fergo and his City Hall hangers-on, or the top service bosses in their nice, warm offices – going to solve this sickening scandal? Is their plan to wait for vulnerable women, children and men to just die off, either through the violence of their abusers or the unforgiving harshness of being homeless?

That’s certainly one way to improve the statistics without actually doing anything.

* BCC supplied the data in slightly different forms for numbers of DV applications, which were given by year up to a given date in March; and both ‘successfully rehoused’ numbers and ‘waiting’ times, which were each supplied covering the financial year (April-March). This means that the precise percentages cited in this article may be slightly different to that recorded by BCC – but any variance will be miniscule. If you doubt our figures, check the data provided by BCC in the link above.

MS X & BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL’S FAILURE TO REHOUSE VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A BRIEF UPDATE

We know many readers have been following the ‘Ms X’ story – in which Bristol City Council has WASTED MONTHS and FAILED TO REHOUSE a vulnerable victim of domestic violence who has faced DEATH THREATS – and hoping for a happy ending.

Unfortunately we are not currently in a position to report any such thing.

However, we understand that the wheels of rehousing are – very slowly – moving forward for Ms X, and that she recently (and for the first time) met PAUL SYLVESTER, the optimistically-titled ‘Rehousing Manager’ who seems to be very effective at neither rehousing nor managing.

The Council’s position now appears to hinge on the VAGUE “hope” that she might be rehoused “in the next couple of weeks”, so keep your fingers crossed – and if you haven’t already, please do let officers and councillors know you are taking an interest in this

Meanwhile, in reporting this story, we have discovered that Ms X’s situation is – depressingly – FAR FROM UNIQUE.

We have uncovered evidence of others forced to suffer twin attacks: both the extended fear of brutal attacks from abusers, and the indignities of ‘BANDING LIMBO’ thanks to BCC’s worryingly inhumane interpretation of housing law.

As soon as we are in a position to publish the full, shocking details of this scandal, we shall.

MS X: NOW THE COPPERS SAY “REHOUSE HER”!

Web ExclusiveNow joining The BRISTOLIAN and the sensible public at large in demanding the immediate rehousing of vulnerable domestic violence victim – Ms X – is the Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

We understand that police have this week spoken with Bristol City Council’s Housing Department and told them Ms X needs to be urgently relocated for her own safety.

It now seems like everybody, except those with the power to help, want Ms X rehoused as a matter of urgency. Indeed it’s beginning to look like Ms X is now being used as little more than a prop to shore up their fragile egos by Housing Department middle managers Paul Sylvester and Nick Hooper. They are refusing to admit, in the face of a barrage of evidence, that they have made errors and they are refusing to acknowledge the real danger Ms X is in.

Instead, in an effort to prove they are right at any cost, they have resorted to fluent bureaucratese insisting she is ‘Band 3’ and there’s no more they can do. This is bullshit. They could rehouse her tomorrow. They do it all the time. Why won’t they do it now?

The BRISTOLIAN continues to receive outraged emails from councillors on this matter, with some that are especially critical of Housing boss Hooper. The only people now actively supporting Sylvester and Hooper in their fool’s errand of refusing to rehouse Ms X is Zoe Sear, “right hand woman” of Mayor George Ferguson (Happy Anniversary!), and the mysterious, unnamed ‘Safer Bristol Domestic Violence Co-ordinator’ who apparently insists Sylvester and Hooper are acting correctly by doing absolutely nothing and leaving a vulnerable young woman in danger of her life.

Sylvester and Hooper have ignored a death threat; they’ve ignored a ‘substantial threat’; now will they ignore police advice too?

MAYOR’S ENFORCER ‘THREATENS TO OUT’ BATTERED WOMAN

Web Exclusive

Zoe Sear - really shit at blackmail

Zoe Sear – really shit at blackmail

The pressure of trying to hold together Bristol City Council’s creaking domestic violence policies whilst also backing oafish housing managers Nick Hooper and Paul Sylvester – who “take domestic violence seriously” by ignoring urgent correspondence on the subject in favour of putting their feet up for the weekend – seems to be taking its toll on the Mayor’s troubleshooting sidekick ZOE SEAR.

Yesterday when Sear spoke to ‘Ms X’ on the telephone, she decided that the domestic abuse-surviving working class young mum wasn’t playing ball by doing what she was told by her ‘superiors’. In frustration the former PR hackette HISSED DARKLY, “your name could be slipped to the mainstream press!”

Really, Zoe? And how might that happen? And what mainstream publication would possibly print the name of a vulnerable domestic violence victim?

Here in Bristol the only outlet possibly vile enough to do such a thing might be the Evening Bristol Post, and the only hack sleazy enough to be prepared to write such a piece would be Shitty Hall scribbler Ian ‘Copy Typist’ Onions.

Mind you, even as a special favour for his BFF Mayor Gorgeous the Post‘s editor, Führer Mike Norton would surely baulk at such a distasteful course of action…

‘IT’S HER FAULT, HONEST GUV!’ HOW BRISTOL’S HOUSING CHIEFS TRIED TO PLAY THE BLAME GAME WITH AT-RISK YOUNG MUM

If this wasn’t such a serious issue – the abject FAILURE of Bristol City Council’s senior ranks to obey the law and find an appropriate place of safety for a young mum who has been the victim of sickening domestic violence – then the inept way council officers have attempted to QUIETLY BRIEF against ‘Ms X’ to councillors and others would be funny.

Today, though, they’ve come out into the open with a statement attributed to “a Bristol City Council spokesman” explaining that, err, they think it’s all Ms X’s fault!

We dissect it line-by-line below…

We take very seriously people experiencing domestic violence or abuse. It is a high priority within our rehousing policy, and we have a number of protocols with Next Link and the police.

On her initial approach to the council, Ms X was offered a place in a refuge or safe house by both the council and Next Link…

…Which Ms X very clearly said from the outset she could not accept, for the very pertinent reasons she articulated then and now…

…was offered a lock-change service, and was also offered help to find a new private tenancy. She declined these offers…

…having noted that a private tenancy would give much less chance of security than a local authority or other social housing property, and be considerably more expensive!

She applied to Home Choice to go on the housing register. Unfortunately…

Now there’s an interesting word, “unfortunately”…

…there was then a delay in assessing her place on the housing register…

By “delay” they actually mean that managers within BCC repeatedly failed her – at a time when there were real dangers to her physical wellbeing from her abuser, who continued to contact her, and she most needed to be in a place of safety rather than wading through the quagmire of council red tape.

…which is not acceptable.

No, it’s not acceptable. It wasn’t acceptable three months ago when it happened, nor two months ago, one month ago or even one week ago.

We apologise wholeheartedly…

“Wholeheartedly” – a nice, cosy, emotional word to imply that ‘hey, we have hearts too!’ Except, of course, they’re sitting in their comfortable offices enjoying their management perks whilst making what in effect are life-and-death decisions about the likes of Ms X.

…for this and we are reviewing how this happened.

Note that they have only apologised NOW, after being embarrassed in public – is that really an apology worth having?

Ms X was placed on the register in Band 3, a priority band which includes other victims of domestic abuse, homelessness cases and others urgently needing to move…

Of course that begs the question, if people being threatened with serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse are not the most preeminent concern, then who is? Managers’ mates?

She has been bidding on properties, but unfortunately has been restricting her selection of property type and location…

Aha! There’s that word “unfortunately” again! Note that the statement uses the same word to describe something that the council did – the “delay” in properly processing the housing application – and something that Ms X did. That suggests that they are comparable: ‘we were a little wrong, you were a little wrong’.

Except what the council did was make an error that is in their own words “not acceptable”; what Ms X did was make a choice about what was most suitable for her and her child.

Let’s have another look at Bristol City Council’s own policy on Domestic Abuse: “[Don’t] Pressurise an individual into a specific course of action… [Don’t] Be judgmental of the individual’s choices and actions”. Seems pretty clear.

And yet this statement attempts to suggest that if the original banding was a mistake, then so if Ms X not wanting to be forced into unsuitable housing. It puts her exercise of free choice on a par with the potentially life-threatening mistakes of senior council officers – could there be anything more judgmental (or offensive) than that?

Had she bid on all suitable properties there are 11 that have been advertised,

Note that there is not even an attempt to actually discuss the quality or suitability of those properties – do you not wonder why?

…and since her application was placed in Band 3 she would have been the successful bidder.

And guess what: there’s no way anyone could verify this! In other words, they’re making stuff up as they go along.

Either that or they’ve got a really good crystal ball up at City Hall. Perhaps Mayor Fergo could use it to place a bet at Paddy Power on a rank outsider to win – then he won’t need to cut the budget for things like rehousing vulnerable people

Ms X has a support worker at Next Link, and the Safer Bristol…

In case you were unaware, the ‘Safer Bristol Partnership’ is a multi-agency quango managed by, erm, Bristol City Council!

…domestic abuse coordinator has reviewed the case.

And who is this mysterious, all-seeing, all-knowing wise person? Have they met with Ms X? Are they a Bristol City Council employee or from another agency? Name them!

Their conclusion is that all agencies have done what they should have.

Now that is a real surprise! But, um, by “all agencies” they can’t possibly mean to include Bristol City Council, can they?

Presumably not, seeing as BCC is an organisation which even by its own admission FAILED to properly band Ms X in the first place. It also WASTED three months, IGNORED Ms X’s wishes to not be dumped in a refuge, and has used THREATS – such as exposing her full identity to the mainstream media, withdrawing all possibility of housing support, and briefing inaccurate information to those who have shown an interest in the case.

…in order to help.

If that all counts as “help” then heaven help those you really don’t like!

We continue to offer on-going support and the case is a priority.

Hang on, did you say “the case is a priority”? If that’s true, why has the council never said that to Ms X, either verbally or in correspondence?

Overall, the whole statement reeks of desperation. This whole sorry affair began more than three months ago. The BRISTOLIAN has been reporting on it for five days.

Yet the best this motley crew of management mediocrities and self-styled ‘communications gurus’ could come up with were some half-baked half-truths, the odd smear, and a bunch of wildly inaccurate claims.

Shameful, pathetic, beneath contempt.

BRISTOL DOMESTIC ABUSE SURVIVOR ‘MS X’ IN HER OWN WORDS – REFUSING TO BE BEATEN DOWN BY HEARTLESS HOUSING CHIEFS

Web ExclusiveIf you have been following the saga of Bristol City Council’s FAILURE to rehouse ‘Ms X’, a young mum who has suffered horrific domestic abuse, then this is a must-read – it’s a statement from her, in her own words…

Three months ago with the aid of a friend I gained the strength to contact a domestic abuse organisation who have helped me to understand that I am a victim and this is not my fault.

I then made an application for Urgent Housing Needs to Bristol City Council, backed up by a referral from the domestic abuse organisation in support of my application. I hoped the process would be straight forward and that common sense would prevail – but this was not the case.

Firstly there was a delay in processing my application, and then the department lost the referral and I was placed in the lowest housing band, Band 5. The referral was resent by the domestic abuse organisation and I was eventually placed in Band 3.

During this disorganised chaos I was referred to the homeless section. This is the only part of the council where I feel that they have shown me any compassion for or understanding of my plight. I was offered a place in a women’s refuge, which I had to turn down. I am not willing to be forced into a refuge for the simple reason that I have a young child (who fortunately has never witnessed the abuse) who has regular contact with her father, who is not the abuser.

I should not have to disrupt my young child’s life or her father’s for my mistake in choosing the wrong partner – I just want to rebuild my life and provide stability for mine and my daughter’s future.

It seems people are telling me what is best for me. How do these people know what is best for me? Do I not have the freedom of choice? I am told there is nothing contained under Section 177 Housing Acts (1996) that states I must go in to a women’s refuge.

Since The Bristolian highlighted my campaign it has brought a great deal of support. The response of Mr Hooper & Mr Sylvester to this support is once again to offer me a refuge and deny me a property – so in over three months my housing application has made no further progress.

I now ask Mr Hooper and Mr Sylvester to do three things:

  1. Show me which part of the housing legislation states I must accept a place in a refuge;
  2. Show me one good reason why three months on that you are unable to provide me with proper accommodation;
  3. Show me any risk assessment you have carried out in reference to my situation.

To date I have had not one face-to-face meeting with a re-housing officer, although I have been informed by my advocate that a meeting is being organised to discuss my case. However, I would like to say that if the council intends only to offer me a refuge against my wishes yet again, please save the expense of travel as my decision is unchanged.

This process is affecting my mental health and well being, but I refuse to be a victim twice. I ask for nothing more than what the law of the land says I am entitled to, if I am not entitled to rehousing again I say show me the law you rely upon.

Ms X

As you can see, it clearly REFUTES many of the lies and misrepresentations that have mysteriously been swirling around City Hall since this shameful episode blew up in public (and particularly since we emailed every councillor in the city to let them know what was going on).

Just imagine that ‘Ms X’ was your friend, your sister, your mum or aunt or daughter: subjected to sickening violence, and then abused a second time by a bunch of clueless bureaucrats with not an ounce of compassion or common sense between them.

Ms X shouldn’t have to take this shit, and nor should any woman, child or man.

BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL’S ‘DOMESTIC ABUSE POLICY’: SOMEBODY BETTER TELL THE BOSSES!

Some extracts from Bristol City Council’s very own Domestic Abuse Policy:

DO

  • Listen positively and reassure the individual. Ensure that they know:
    • You believe them
    • It’s not their fault
    • There is support available

DON’T

  • Pressurise an individual into a specific course of action
  • Be judgmental of the individual’s choices and actions
  • Stop supporting the individual once you have referred to another agency

Perhaps the overpaid idiots mishandling the ‘Ms X’ case should take the time to read it?

And then – heaven forbid – actually PUT IT INTO PRACTICE

ZERO TOLERANCE ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE – THE ‘MS X’ EMAIL SENT TO EVERY COUNCILLOR IN BRISTOL

On Sunday, to ensure that the failures faced by domestic violence survivor ‘Ms X’ were not swept under the carpet, The BRISTOLIAN emailed this message to all seventy Bristol City Councillors:

Dear Councillor,

As you may be aware, on Friday The BRISTOLIAN newspaper reported on a survivor of brutal domestic abuse, ‘Ms X’, whom Bristol City Council has failed to rehouse per its statutory obligations.

We identified named individuals – Strategic Housing Director Nick Hooper, Rehousing Manager Paul Sylvester, and Mayor George Ferguson – who had each been sent extensive information pertaining to Ms X’s situation, yet had done nothing about it.

The precise circumstances of Ms X’s dire need for rehousing are detailed within correspondence to which those three individuals were party to.

We would ask that any councillors who consider the rehousing of vulnerable survivors of domestic violence to be important contact Mr Hooper, Mr Sylvester and Mr Ferguson directly, and demand to know what they are doing about this woman’s plight.

Furthermore, we wonder just how many other people at risk from extreme physical, sexual or emotional abuse have been similarly let down by Bristol City Council. Just what will it take – a beating, a rape or a murder – for anything to be done to protect all the Ms Xs out there in Bristol tonight, tomorrow night, and every night thereafter?

We urge all readers to do the same – by contacting Mayor George Ferguson, “right hand woman” Zoe Sear, Nick Hooper and Paul Sylvester and letting them know that you expect IMMEDIATE ACTION to ensure the safety of Ms X and her child.

Please also consider letting your WARD COUNCILLORS know your concerns – you can find their contact details here.

Let each and every one of them, whether Labour, Lib Dem, Tory, Green or Independent, know that those who have suffered domestic violence should not have to put up with this kind of inhumane treatment from the council.

BRISTOL MAYOR’S AIDE ZOE SEAR – VICTIM BLAMER, ABUSE ENABLER…

Zoe Sear: sticking the boot into domestic violence survivors on behalf of Mayor George Ferguson

Zoe Sear: sticking the boot into domestic violence survivors on behalf of Mayor George Ferguson

Web ExclusiveSo step forward ZOE SEAR, Mayor Fergo’s “right hand woman” paid nearly a thousand quid a week for her problem-solving abilities. Obviously a working class Bristolian like Ms X who has been repeatedly battered black and blue is not the concern of a Very Important millionaire like George Redtrousers, so when this shitstorm erupted in public, it was passed to his smiling consigliere Sear to deal with.

After initially making lots of sympathetic noises, Sear is now conspiring with incompetent housing chiefs Hooper and Sylvester to COVER UP their mistakes – and blame Ms X for her situation.

Sear has attempted to use an appointment scheduling error by a support agency which meant that Ms X could not attend one meeting because she was at another one as a stick to beat the victim with – and FORCE her into taking a place in a refuge against her wishes. That is the same offer that Ms X explained that she couldn’t accept THREE MONTHS AGO. Sear and her housing department chums are now using the threat of withdrawing all support as a way of SILENCING a vulnerable victim.

As Sear contemptuously said to Ms X’s advocate, “I don’t have a magic wand – what do you want me to do? Take her home with me?”

No, Zoe – we simply want you, your boss and your council to do the right thing – by appropriately rehousing this woman and her child. BEFORE either of them is harmed.

REHOUSING DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIM ‘MS X’ – A HAPPY ENDING…?

Web ExclusiveFollowing our recent articles on the horrific domestic abuse suffered by ‘Ms X’ – and the failure of senior Bristol City Council officials to rehouse her into a place of safety – we can report that those running our city have… Done precisely NOTHING.

Well, nothing except:

  • BLAME the victim
  • Make FALSE ALLEGATIONS about Ms X
  • Attempt to WASH THEIR HANDS of their legal duties

As we reported on Friday, senior BCC managers NICK HOOPER and PAUL SYLVESTER as well as City Mayor GEORGE FERGUSON all IGNORED extensive paperwork detailing the case of Ms X.

FACT: Ms X reported her abuse months ago.
FACT: Ms X has fully cooperated with the council and other agencies.
FACT: Ms X – for a range of reasons we cannot divulge here – made it clear she could not go to a ‘refuge’.
FACT: Bristol City Council made serious errors in its initial assessment of her needs.
FACT: Ms X is under an imminent and ongoing threat of extreme violence from her abuser if she stays where she is.

If all this didn’t sound grim enough on its own, The BRISTOLIAN can now reveal that:

  • Ms X has been repeatedly FAILED by local authority services in the past.
  • Ms X is also responsible for a YOUNG CHILD – whom she is terrified that she will lose if she is thrown into a refuge.
  • Ms X was initially put into the LOWEST housing band when originally assessed – a mistake that cost valuable weeks and caused great anxiety and stress to Ms X.
  • Ms X has received NO APOLOGY for her shameful treatment.

Since The BRISTOLIAN first brought the issue out into the open – and emailed an outline of the sickening situation to all SEVENTY COUNCILLORS to ensure that there would be no whitewash, no brushing of the matter under the carpet – there has been a flurry of activity behind the scenes at City Hall.

Ms X, her advocate and The BRISTOLIAN – plus a small number of councillors who have admirably taken an interest – took this to mean that the decision-makers were finally taking this seriously, and working to protect a survivor of domestic violence.

That belief was misplaced. That trust has been abused.

Want to know what happened next? Read on…