Image caption, Leonie Ward says she feels “vulnerable” living in the tower block
By Laurence Cawley & Simon Dedman
BBC News, Essex
Lone parent Leonie Ward was fast asleep in her tower block flat when a neighbour spotted a person dressed in dark clothing pushing at her window from the outside.
The would-be-intruder had climbed up to the outside of her flat using scaffolding which has been left in situ for months on end amid a dispute between Thurrock Council and its contractor, Axis.
Residents, including Ms Ward, say they are scared, vulnerable and feel “trapped” in the three Seabrook Estate tower block flats in Thurrock.
They say what began with children using the scaffolding as a make-shift climbing frame has morphed into something far more sinister – criminals using the structure to find unlocked windows.
Those living in the towers claim to have seen people pushing at windows as high up as the sixth and seventh floors.
Earlier this month, a man was killed in an incident residents say involved a group of men climbing up to one of the flats using the scaffolding.
Essex Police is treating the death as suspected murder. Three men and a woman are currently on police bail pending further inquiries.
Image caption, Scaffolding has been left on the towers amid a financial dispute between Thurrock Council and a contractor
“Things have been happening that never happened before, including someone ended up getting killed the other week on the block opposite,” says Ms Ward, who has lived here with her two children for the past five years.
“When things like that are happening on your doorstep it is quite scary.”
She says the attempted break-in at her flat had left her feeling scared and trapped.
“My neighbour caught them trying to open the windows and called the police,” she says.
“As a single woman with two children I feel vulnerable. I don’t feel safe here any more.”
Image caption, Father-of-three Robert Gordon says the scaffolding became a problem once work on the refurbishments halted
Father-of-three Robert Gordon says the scaffolding became a problem once work on the refurbishments were halted.
“They are like ladders for cat burglars, they are exactly like that,” he says.
Mr Gordon says children mess around on the scaffolding every day. But he is more worried about what happens at night.
“People don’t want to see people at their windows – it is scary,” he says. “We should feel safe in our homes and we don’t.
“They are coming at all manner of times. They climb up and rattle the windows to see if they will open. People are going to keep trying.
“They are going as far as the sixth or seventh floors trying windows.”
He has called on the council to remove the scaffolding as quickly as possible.
Image caption, Liz Gordon says she does not feel safe because of the scaffolding
Liz Gordon, Mr Gordon’s wife, says: “It is horrible and it is scary.
“We’ve had quite a lot of people climbing up, whether they be kids or adults all through the day and in the night.
“It is not safe – we have had a couple of incidents of people trying the windows and trying to break in.
“Luckily, we’ve got a dog.”
Image caption, Bailey (not her real name) is living with fellow lone mum Madison (not her real name) in a two bedroom flat
Among the hundreds of people living in the Seabrook Estate are a number of lone mothers deemed vulnerable by the council and housed in shared accommodation
Mother-of-one Bailey (not her real name) is living with fellow lone mum Madison (not her real name) in a two bedroom flat.
She says a would-be intruder targeted her windows but could not get into the property because they were locked.
“They came back later and then did the same thing one floor above me.”
Image caption, Bailey’s kitchen window, still spattered with dried render from previous cladding work, has scaffolding right outside
That incident involved the death of a man currently being treated as murder by police.
“It has been absolutely horrendous, terrible,” Bailey says.
Essex Police said it was not aware of the scaffolding being used to commit crimes.
Four people arrested in connection with the suspected murder incident on 6 October have been released on police bail until 27 December, the force said.
Andrew Jeffries, leader of Conservative-run Thurrock Council, says the scaffolding was there because of the various works being carried out on the building, which has included recladding and replacing the windows.
“I’m really, really sorry if people don’t feel secure and I’m saddened to hear that,” he says. “I will ask officers to go out and have another look to see what we can do.
“I appreciate the concerns residents have – I wouldn’t like scaffolding up at my home for long periods of time.”
He said he hoped the window-replacement work on the site would resume within a couple of months.
Image caption, The leader of Thurrock Council says he hopes works on the towers will resume in the next few months
The Labour councillor for the estate, Martin Kerrin, says: “The programme that should have taken 18 months has dragged on and on and on.
“Now because of the time the scaffolding has been up we are now seeing anti-social behaviour as a result of it and residents don’t feel safe in their own homes.”
Axis, the contractor, said the site was secure and was subject to weekly inspections.
“Residents are encouraged to voice any concerns through our on-site liaison team and resident surgeries, including those related to scaffold,” a spokesperson for the firm said.
“We take all resident feedback seriously and would carry out an additional scaffold inspection if that was the nature of concern.”
The firm said it had continued working on the site during the past six months, primarily on the roofing.
“The scaffold has remained in place to provide safe access to the external areas of the building that are still being worked on,” the spokesperson said, “and to allow the maintenance programme to progress across various blocks.”
Photography: Laurence Cawley
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