We are not actually in Devon, just for clarity, but in Concord, Washington, Tyne & Wear. I happen to know Concord, which is both ill-named and if one is honest, probably at the negative end of the architecturally charming list. But I won’t hear a word against the people of Concord, who are frequently wonderful, and even when they aren’t, have an impressive and flamboyant style in supermarket trolley arsonage. Unfortunately, the people of Concord themselves take a different view of their co-inhabitants, hence this story of a less than common prosecution for neighbour noise nuisance.
Caroline and Steve Cartwright find themselves appealing a conviction for breach of a noise abatement order and according to the BBC a 4 year ASBO imposed as a result, that banned them from “shouting, screaming or vocalisation at such a level as to be a statutory nuisance” in, astonishingly, all of England. And the nature of the repeated breaches?
Their lovemaking, variously described by neighbours as “murder” and “unnatural”. The noise allegedly drowned out their neighbours’ televisions. As the next door neighbour put it:
It’s just quite unnatural.[…] The noise sounds like they are both in inconsiderable pain. Mr Cartwright sounds like he is in inconsiderable pain. […] I cannot describe the noise. Totally excessive and I have never ever heard anything like it. […] I put my telly in my bedroom on as loud as it could go and they drown it out.
Following complaints from neighbours, the local postman and a woman who walked past the house taking her child to school, a Council Environmental Health Manager attended during the usual problem hours of midnight to 2 or 3am. The Manager, Marion Dixon, and a colleague, Pamela Spark, who attended at a different time, gave evidence from their notes that:
I heard a male voice howling loudly, which I felt was very unnerving.
or, from Ms Spark:
Hysterical, almost continuous, just screaming, I noted that I found it very disturbing and I noted that it sounded like she was being murdered. I also noted that it was very alarming.
Specialist equipment installed in Miss O’Connor’s flat by Sunderland City Council recorded noise levels of between 30 to 40 decibels, with the highest being 47 decibels. This strikes me as not very high, as equivalents are:
– 40 decibels a quiet living room or a refrigerator humming at 2 metres.
– 50 decibels a boiling kettle at 0.5 metres.
I’m not sure that I would consider even the nearest and most orgiastic boiling kettle to be a prosecutable nuisance, but I may have to revise my view. Mind you, the WHO suggests that for someone to sleep well the noise level should not exceed 30 decibels, which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, equivalent to a quiet bedroom at night.
And now, at Crown Court, apparently a Recorder and two magistrates had the benefit of a 10 minute tape, recorded over 5 days, of the alleged statutory nuisance.
Ms Cartwright, who appeared to be taking the lead in the appeal, is reported as advancing two arguments.
Firstly, she has always made such a noise and can’t help it, with evidence from a psychologist to come, if I might put it that way (and apparently re-incarnate as Frankie Howerd in the process).
Secondly, the prosecution breaches her Article 8 rights to respect for her family and private life.
I don’t envy the Newcastle Crown Court on their task in reaching a decision, but is there perhaps a question as to how private a life actually is if even the postman has complained? Still, given the nature of the ASBO, the Cartwrights would have been in breach even if they had sneaked off to the remotest wilds of Northumbria for a not so quiet encounter, which begs a variation on the old tree falling in the forest question.
[Edit – apparently the appeal failed and today the ASBO was upheld. Recorder Jeremy Freedman, sitting with two magistrates, rejected Mrs Cartwright’s claim that she could not help making the loud noise during sex and that her human rights were breached.
We are in no doubt whatsoever about the level of noise that can be heard in neighbouring properties, in the street and in the back lane. It certainly was intrusive and constituted a statutory nuisance. It was clearly of a very disturbing nature and it was also compounded by the duration – this was not a one-off, it went on for hours at a time. It is further compounded by the frequency of the episode, virtually every night. We are satisfied for whatever reason, to enjoy the sexual experience or attention seeking, we are satisfied it was not involuntary. Even if we were persuaded that this was involuntary we would not find that the making of the abatement notice or the breach of that in some way infringed the appellant’s rights under the Human Rights Act.
So there we are. If you must have sex at 47 decibels, make it quick and infrequent or you too may be arrested three times in a week.]
*The title comes from a probably apocryphal tale of a dodgy translation/printing of a Scandanavian saucy story booklet, back in the days when pr0n was a) printed and b) was ‘under the counter’. The full line is “‘Stog, stog, I’m in exeter’ she crid as he stoked her thigs”. For some reason, it has stayed with me.