Feud death family lose compensation bid

The family of an elderly man murdered by his neighbour, have lost their High Court bid for compensation from their local council.

James Mitchell, aged 75, had moved from a high-rise flat to a new house on the Mosspark Estate, in Glasgow, with his wife Anne in 1995 following his heart bypass operation. He was brutally murdered by 65 year-old James Drummond on 31 July 2001, after enduring six years of harassment.

Mr Mitchell’s wife and their daughter Karin were claiming £150,000 from Glasgow City Council, as they blamed the council for not removing Drummond from his council house next door to Mr Mitchell’s, despite 6 years worth of complaints of his behaviour. The family alleged in court that: “It was their (Glasgow City Council) duty to take reasonable care to act on repeated complaints of a serious nature which are made over a prolonged period of time. It was their duty to take reasonable care to instigate legal proceedings for the recovery of property from violent tenants such as James Drummond within a reasonable time after complaints had been made and in any event by October 1999 at the latest.”

Mr Mitchell had kept a 60-page journal of all incidents involving Drummond starting when they moved to the area up until his death. It recorded incidents such as cutting washing lines hanging clothes, dog excrement smeared on doors, smashed windows, verbal and physical abuse in the street and loud music blaring. The couple even went as far as to install CCTV outside their home, hoping that recorded evidence of Drummond’s behaviour would get him evicted.

Problems escalated from February 2001 onwards and on 31 July, Drummond was finally given an eviction notice in a meeting with council officials on grounds of anti-social behaviour. Less than an hour after this meeting, Drummond bludgeoned Mr Mitchell with a wooden stick outside his home. He was rushed to hospital where he spent ten days in intensive care before he died.

Drummond was arrested soon after the attack and pleaded guilty to culpable homicide in 2002 and was sentenced to 8 years in prison, though that was reduced to 5 years after an appeal.

In 2004 Lord Bracadale ruled in the councils favour at the Court of Session in Edinburgh but the family decided to appeal and had taken the case to the High Court in London. He ruled that the council could not have foreseen or prevented Mr Mitchell’s untimely death.

The council denied liability, sought to have the action dismissed. They maintain that they fulfilled its duties of reasonable care in the case. They said: “There was no indication from the police or from any other source available that there was a real risk that Drummond might assault the deceased.”

Counsel for Glasgow City Council Roddy Dunlop said: “Why is it the local authority that is responsible for the death of the deceased? Why is it not Drummond? Why is it not the police? The council did not kill the deceased. What is said is that they failed to take steps to prevent Drummond killing him.” He argued that there was no duty of care on a landlord arising from the acts or omissions of a tenant.

The family’s case has now also been rejected in the Hugh Court by five Law Lords. They ruled that the authority could not have foreseen the assault on Mr Mitchell.

Speaking before the ruling, Karin Mitchell said that the family claim was all about justice. “There’s got to be some kind of duty of care so that if people are suffering there’s going to be help out there for them. My mum and dad suffered for eight years before my dad was attacked. Anti-social behaviour ended his life. If the law was changed it would be a good victory for my dad.” A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “While we sympathise with the Mitchell family’s situation, we welcome the decision by the House of Lords as it clarifies the important issue of duty of care for public services.”

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