Pubdate: Fri, 19 May 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Author: Nick Britten


A pensioner is facing jail for protesting against her council's 
"refusal" to help residents in her once picturesque street which has 
been overrun by drug dealers and prostitutes.

Hartington Street, with its terrace houses and tree-lined pavements, 
was one of the most desirable addresses in Derby 20 years ago.

Today it is full of boarded-up windows, flats - many of them squats - 
crammed with homeless drug addicts and immigrants. An alleyway behind 
it was dubbed "Crack Alley" after council workers found 900 
hypodermic needles in one hour.

Now Josephine Rooney, 69, has had enough. In November 2004 she 
stopped paying her council tax and, with the bill currently at 
UKP798, is now facing prosecution. She said she was ready to go to jail.

"If it means getting the authorities to sort this street out then it 
will be a price worth paying," she said. "I have lived here 20 years 
and when I moved in there were 50 owner-occupiers. Today there are seven.

"The council has been given huge grants to invest in regeneration yet 
they have done nothing. All the people who own houses here are 
pensioners. When we are gone what will be left of one of the most 
beautiful streets in the city?"

The three-storey houses in Hartington Street, half a mile from Derby 
city centre, were built 130 years ago but in the last 20 years nearly 
all have been sold and converted into flats or bedsits.

Miss Rooney's complaint is not with the squatters - as a devout 
Christian she spends a lot of time and money feeding them and handing 
out hot drinks - but with the city council she claims has ignored her 
and other residents' requests for money to help maintain the 
properties and to prevent drug addicts and homeless people staying unlawfully.

Six years ago she formed the Hartington Area Residents' Committee, 
which she chairs. A major cause of problems is the high proportion of 
absentee landlords.

She said: "It's a sad and serious situation and I am refusing to pay 
my tax to try to get the council to listen. This is a conservation 
area with lovely houses but it has been allowed to go to ruin.

"The council allowed landlords to take over and turn the houses into 
flats to solve the housing shortage but you rarely see any landlords 
or signs that the properties are being looked after. The council 
should be enforcing regulations and putting some of the huge 
regeneration grants they get from Europe into our street. If we had 
more resident landlords then it would help reduce crime."

She said she decided to refuse to pay her council tax because she 
wanted to think of a way of civil disobedience.

She said: "I couldn't think of any then I read about a woman doing it 
and it seemed the way ahead.

"I am tired of the situation and want some closure. I am very serious 
and will go to jail to make my point if that's what it takes."

Larry Jones, 43, who lives in Hartington Street, said the area 
desperately needed investment. "There are still people shouting at 
all times of the night and slamming doors," he said. "Rubbish is 
being dumped at the back, which means we get rats.

"Josephine is highlighting the issue that the council should sort the 
street out and we support her."

In 2002 the street, along with those nearby, was given Renewal Area 
Status. Money from the city council's capital programme, about 
UKP450,000, was allocated to spruce it up, as was UKP167,000 from 
European grants.

The street has figured in 33 reports to the police in the past six 
months. There were eight assaults, seven reports of damage and arson, 
four drug offences, three thefts of vehicles, two thefts from 
vehicles, three for handling stolen goods, four burglaries, one other 
theft and one fraud.

Andy Thomas, Derby Community Safety Partnership's head of strategy 
for anti-social behaviour, said his team was working with other 
organisations to improve residents' quality of life. He said they had 
been successful in reducing prostitution and its associated problems.

Chris Williamson, the leader of Derby city council, said they had 
approached Miss Rooney last July when a residents' forum was set up.

"We need partnership with the people who live in the area," he said. 
"They can help to shape the programme to tackle the issues."