‘I will not be bullied’: Pensioner faces threat of time behind bars in ten-year row over security gate
- Credit: Archant
A 79-year-old woman has been told she could be sent to prison over a gate she has had in front of her property for 30 years.
Veronica Gordon, a great-grandmother and member of the Windrush generation, was taken to court by estate managers Eastend Homes after refusing to take down a metal grill, which she first had installed with planning permission in 1979.
On Friday, August 9 a judge at the County Court of Central London issued her with a suspended prison sentence and ordered her to remove it by August 14, yesterday, which they have not done.
Mrs Gordon and daughter Janice, 51, were also ordered to pay Eastend Homes £1,419 in legal costs by August 30.
It comes as the latest in an astonishing saga that saw the social landlord call police to Mrs Gordon's home over the gate in 2009, where as the Advertiser reported at the time, she was arrested, "manhandled" and handcuffed before suffering a blackout.
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For its part, East End Homes has said the gate poses a fire risk and it was "saddened" to have had to take her to court.
Mrs Gordon, a widow, has lived at St Clair House on the British Street Estate in Mile End since the 1970s.
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She came to the UK from Jamaica in the 1950s and bought her home under right to buy for £12,000.
She told the Advertiser: "I haven't had an easy life. My husband and I both worked, I brought up four kids, and all I want now is some peace.
"I feel harassed and stressed. I can't understand grown people behaving the way they are. It's bullying tactics and I won't be bullied."
Mrs Gordon and her daughter, who has not been a leaseholder since November 2017, were summoned to Shoreditch Crown Court in May.
Neither attended two further court hearings in July due to poor health, during which Judge Alan Saggerson had ordered the gate to be removed.
Mrs Gordon, who has diabetes, bilateral cataracts and a failing memory, provided a letter from her GP at Harley Grove Medical Centre dated June 6 to state she could not attend the latest hearing last Friday.
The letter stated: "I am concerned that this elderly lady will not be able to attend the hearing due to her poor physical health."
But it was dismissed by Judge Saggerson, who said: "This is regrettably a case of non-attendance in court."
A six-month prison sentence was imposed on Mrs Gordon with a suspended activation date of Monday September 2 to give Mrs Gordon, he said, a last chance to "explain herself" and a "final opportunity" to take the gate down.
Mrs Gordon said she could not contemplate the idea of prison, saying: "I can't allow it to take me over because I don't know how the old ticker is going.
"When it comes, I'll be afraid and have to see what happens, and that's all I can say."
She and her daughter insist the gate only poses a risk to themselves as the sole property it bcould block access to is their own.
Janice Gordon, a pupil referral unit worker who is on benefits after suffering four heart attacks in 2017, said: "In this day and age we have to feel safe and protect our elderly.
"Anybody can walk onto the balcony and make their way up here, or knock on the door and pretend to be police officers with a fake ID. She's vulnerable as an older person and this is her protection.
"They've come in and treated us like naughty children because we said no. If you don't comply you are blackballed and isolated."
Jim Fitzpatrick, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, intervened ten years ago when Eastend Homes called police to Mrs Gordon's home.
At the time the housing association went on to fit a wooden panel over the broken front door, then told Mrs Gordon she would be billed for the removal and storage of the gate.
A spokeswoman for Mr Fitzpatrick said he would be writing to Eastend Homes again about the latest development, adding: "We will ask them why such drastic action was necessary, and ask them to behave with compassion towards Ms Gordon in light of her age and health issues."
Eastend Homes has removed more than 300 security gates from residents' homes over the past few years, generally, it said, with their agreement.
Managing director John Henderson said: "We are saddened that we had to take this issue to court to seek an injunction to remove the security gate.
"We have done so because it presents a real fire safety risk to Veronica Gordon's safety as well as other residents. This is the third gate Veronica has installed on the communal area, EastendHomes have removed the gate twice previously.
"We have consistently tried to communicate with Veronica Gordon to resolve this issue as well as offer a new secure door of the highest standard.
"We welcome the decision of the County Court and we would like to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Whilst the last thing we want is for any residents to occur unnecessary costs, our first priority is the safety of our residents."