TWO Rustington families have spoken of their relief after their “neighbour from hell” was sent to prison, following a relentless campaign of harassment and abuse.
Mark and Lisa Newham and friends Steven and Kim Holder, who all live in Dinsdale Gardens, told of their terrifying five-year ordeal at the hands of their former neighbour, who threatened them with a crossbow, verbally abused them and pushed both families to breaking point.
Unemployed Joby Akira, who lives next to the Newhams, was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment at Worthing Magistrates’ Court, on Tuesday (February 21), following a three-day trial at the end of last month. He had denied a charge of harassment without violence.
In an exclusive interview with the Gazette after the court case, the Newhams and Holders told how Akira, 54, had reduced them to tears and nearly destroyed both of the couple’s marriages, with his persistent campaign of abuse.
Kim, 51, a carer with Catcher’s Care, in Littlehampton, said she had to, at one point, physically restrain her 52-year-old husband from assaulting Akira, after years of abuse took its toll.
She said: “Akira had painted a sign in his garden – some sort of phrase from the Rambo films – saying: ‘Don’t push me...’.
“One morning, when he came back from his holiday, he was sitting in his front garden with a loaded crossbow. I was horrified. He then turned towards me and I was scared. He was unstable at the best of times, so I didn’t know what he was capable of.
“He didn’t actually aim the crossbow at me, but he was facing me, with it in his hands. It was very intimidating.
“To him, this was all a game. He was the puppet master and we were his puppets. You couldn’t have a life of your own.”
Mark, 49, who has lived in the street with his wife Lisa, 47, for more than 13 years, took the brunt of the abuse. They felt Akira had a “personal vendetta” with the couple after they complained to Arun District Council’s environmental health department about the loud music he would play in the early hours of the morning.
Mark said: “I’m not a violent person, I’ve never been in trouble with the police. But after five years of constant stress, I could have killed him.
“It was a relentless bombardment of persecution, all hours of the day. We couldn’t escape it. It just started to break us down.
“It put our 28-year marriage at risk. We were literally on the verge of divorcing, it was that bad.
“He’d take out a video camera and record me as I went to work, came back from work, went to the shops, went outside – it was for anything and everything.
“He even called the police on me at one point, claiming I had thrown a brick at his home – even though I had been at a client’s house all day.
“He has totally changed our lives. I’m not the same person I was. I used to be a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Now, I’m always miserable.”
During Akira’s trial, prosecutor Bridget Norfolk told the court that the defendant had previously been given a noise abatement order by environmental health after playing music at “all times of the day” and an anti-social behaviour order, which he breached within days.
His behaviour led to him being given a harassment warning in July, 2010, but Ms Norfolk said it “didn’t put an end to his behaviour”.
As well as hosting a loud party that continued into the early hours of the morning, and littering his neighbours’ driveways, he would constantly call Mr Newman morbidly obese and of “below average intelligence”, and had also filmed his neighbours, Ms Norfolk added.
She said Akira had been seen brandishing a crossbow with what District Judge Stephen Nicholls later described as the “implied threat of violence”.
Yet despite witness statements being read in court, in which neighbours Mr Newham and Mr Holder recounted their horrifying years of abuse, Akira claimed it was he who had been the victim.
Representing himself, Akira, who is confined to a wheelchair, said: “I just want to live my life and I don’t want to intimidate anyone, but if people commit offences against me then I’m going to respond.
He added: “The whole issue has come about by what I consider three Cs: class, culture, clash. I consider myself class-less because my culture is totally different to theirs, therefore leading to a clash.”
District judge Nicholls said Akira had given “very little mitigation” for his actions and sentenced him to 12 weeks’ imprisonment, half of which will be served in custody and the other half on licence.
He also gave Akira an indefinite restraining order, stopping him filming or recording his neighbours, and acting or inciting others to act in an anti-social way.
Speaking after the court case, Lisa said that this sentence was simply not enough.
“When we asked him why he did it, he said, ‘because I can. It’s my human rights to do what I want’.
“He put us through a living hell. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be back, doing it all over again, once he’s released.”