My client is guilty/innocent/guilty errr.......

Butcher Brian Clapton's solicitors may have felt that their biggest liability was the client himself. Me Clapton, aged 51, owner of Brian's Meat Store in Longbridge Road, Barking, Essex had been running his shop for 13 years when he was suddenly challenged with a noise abatement order. The order stemmed from a complaint from a neighbour about the loud sound of early morning chopping as Brian used his cleaver to cut up his meat in preparation for the day ahead. To add insult to injury, Brian was also singing out loud whilst chopping!

Aghast at the challenge, Brian realised he was battling to save his livelihood. He appeared in court before the magistrate for repeatedly breaching the noise abatement order the council had issued in October 2008.

Honest principles

The father of three, who’s married to a school head, issued a statement to say that, if he lost the case, his shop, his way of life and his earnings were in jeopardy. He went on to say he was a very truthful person and had worked hard to build up his business for well over a decade, so he hoped the case would end with a just verdict.

The whole debacle sparked in June 2008 when a tenant, Michelle Gibbs, who had recently moved in above Brian’s butchers shop, made a formal complaint to Barking and Dagenham Council over the levels of the noise that were reaching her from the premises below.

Soundproofing solution

Initially, in November 2008, Brian was ordered to provide soundproofing to his shop. The only alternative offered was to stop chopping from 6am to 8am Monday to Friday and before 9am on Saturdays. The problem flared up when Brian claimed the Council should fund the soundproofing on the building since they owned the freehold for the whole premises.

As more news about the case leaked out, it was reported, Ali Parker, speaking for the Council, told Barking Magistrates Court that the complaint was due to loud voices, noisy chopping and other loud noises emanating from the shop below. This was annoying and disruptive to the tenant above, who complained more than once to the Council. To witness the situation first hand, the Council visited both the tenant and Mr. Clapton to try to provide mediation for the problem.

A butcher's taste in music

Timothy Jones, Noise and Nuisance Officer for the Council told the Court that he’d paid several visits to the tenant’s flat between August and December 2008. He said that, during one particular visit, the noise levels were such that it sounded like a major refurbishment project was going on below. Mr. Clapton and staff were also singing out loud to Country and Western singer Lee Marvin’s track ‘Wand'rin' Star’ and ‘School’s out’ by rock band Alice Cooper. Did Brian's legal team look carefully at their legal indemnity insurance I wonder? If they did, you really couldn't blame them.

To improve the situation, Mr. Jones said he’d advised Mr. Clapton to muffle the noise with mats underneath his chopping boards but this appeared not to have been done. Meanwhile, Mr. Clapton had commissioned a survey to find out the costs of soundproofing the building and reported back that the costs would be thousands of pounds. Unable to afford this, the only solution facing Mr. Clapton would be to leave the premises.

Case suddenly dropped

In Court, Mr. Clapton denied four counts of breaching noise abatement orders and, after hearing all evidence, the case was adjourned until November 2008. To everyone’s surprise, in January 2009 the case was suddenly dropped by the Council on the basis that an agreement had been reached.

Mr. Clapton said he felt like a big cloud had been lifted and that the sun was breaking through once again. He also, rather cheekily, said he would carry on singing and running his business as usual, leaving legal professionals baffled as to what type of agreement could have been reached between the parties after all that time.

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