Borders owner occupier’s ordeal ends with apology

Eamonn O'Neill with his wife Sarah. Picture: Gareth Easton
Eamonn O'Neill with his wife Sarah. Picture: Gareth Easton
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A HOUSING association has apologised and confirmed the “departure” of an anti-social tenant convicted of threatening an academic and his young family who were forced to flee their home.

Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) claims it has “resolved” the four-year-long campaign of harassment suffered by Dr Eamonn O’Neill after the tenant vacated the property yesterday morning following “active negotiations”.

However, the registered social landlord has refused to address calls for the resignation of Julia Mulloy, its embattled chief executive, and declined to respond to enquiries from The Scotsman as to whether the tenant has been relocated to another SBHA property.

Last night, Christine Grahame, the SNP MSP, dismissed the association’s “spin and bluster”, while Dr O’Neill vowed to pursue legal action in light of the “insulting” apology.

The University of Strathclyde lecturer and journalist has been embroiled in a dispute with SBHA for years over why it did not evict the tenant, who pled guilty at Peebles Sheriff Court in 2011 to behaving in a threatening and abusive manner at his ground-floor address, below the O’Neill residence.

In court, the tenant’s defence agent said he had surrendered his tenancy. He was served with a criminal anti-social behaviour order and instructed not to contact Dr O’Neill or his family.

However, his tenancy remained live, and after being released from prison, he returned to the Innerleithen property last week.

Private correspondence from SBHA shows it intended to evict the tenant last year by raising a sheriff court action. In stark ­contrast, Harper Macleod, ­acting on SBHA’s behalf, told Dr O’Neill’s solicitors there was “no process” to “immediately prevent” the tenant’s return to the address.

In a statement issued by Chelgate, a London-based PR and lobbying firm, SBHA said negotiations were “successful”.

It said: “The association had also explored the possibility of the removal of the individuals concerned through legal action. However, through the process of negotiation [it] was able to resolve the situation.

“While the departure of the… tenant was still pending, SBHA were unable to respond to the recent media coverage, both because any comment might have jeopardised a successful outcome, and because they were legally prevented from disclosing matters relating to the tenant concerned to Dr O’Neill or to the media.”

Ray License, SBHA’s chairman, said he was “happy” with the “satisfactory resolution”, but was “very sorry that SBHA had been unable to keep Dr O’Neill fully briefed as the situation moved forward”.

Ms Grahame, who declined SBHA’s offer to meet with officials without Dr O’Neill, and is pushing for an independent inquiry and tightened housing association legislation, said: “The words that come to mind are ‘spin’ and ‘bluster’. This is not an end to the matter. This has exposed their gross impotence, because they had to do something.

“Heaven help whoever is living next to this man now. Where has he been put? That’s the next question, along with what SBHA has done to entice him away.”

Last night, Dr O’Neill said: “I’ve witnessed my wife and family being traumatised to inhumane levels over the past four years by SBHA’S abject failure to act within their own rules and regulations, not to mention the law of the land.

“I find the contents of this statement insulting in the extreme. I’ll be seeking additional extraordinary damages for SBHA’s lamentable handling of this affair this past week.”