'Neighbours from hell' avoid jail after breaching court order
Members of a notorious family who have made their neighbours' lives hell with over 300 incidents of anti-social behaviour have escaped jail for breaching a court order designed to stop them misbehaving.
Over the years the Birch family - father Michael, 69, matriarch Jane Beard, 52, and daughters Trudie, 28, and Ellen, 22 - have caused untold misery to their neighbours at various properties in Gloucester.
In the past they have been imprisoned for breaching court orders designed to curb the misery they cause to those around them.
At a hearing last month Michael, Trudie, Ellen and Ellen's former boyfriend Robert Edwards were convicted of breaching an interim injunction made in October last year banning them from shouting, causing a nuisance or making rude gestures to neighbours at their former flat in Russell Street.
That injunction was further extended to cover all of the city of Gloucester and attached to it was a power of arrest, so police could take immediate action if trouble flared.
This was the latest in a string of actions taken against the family by both Gloucester City Homes and more recently Project Solace, an anti-social behaviour partnership. They include two evictions, 12 injunctions and three prison sentences.
Following their eviction from the flat in December, the Birch family were squatting behind a disused building in the city centre, next to a supermarket car park.
They returned to Gloucester County Court on Wednesday to hear whether they would be jailed again - with Michael Birch unsuccessfully seeking an adjournment because he was unable to get a solicitor and had missed last month's court hearing because he was in hospital.
He told District Judge David Hebblethwaite: "I was in the hospital on my death bed - that's why I couldn't attend. They were all with me. I have only got four months to live."
The court heard that Michael, Jane and Trudie had been temporarily housed in a bungalow in Stroud - specially adapted for wheelchair users Michael and Jane - but were having to leave by the end of this week and could be homeless again.
Youngest daughter Ellen and her former partner Edwards were both homeless and living in Gloucester.
Trudie, her parents' carer, told the judge: "We are glad to move from Gloucester and get in no more trouble with this.
"The neighbours are fine with me - no problems at all. We want a new start in Stroud away from Gloucester.
"We do not want to come back to Gloucester and go to prison for it. We want to try our best and put it all behind us."
Michael added: "I want to thank all the people that got us this move. I love it there. I am not coming back to Gloucester.
"All I want to do is stay out of prison and live a normal life. I will admit that I am very sorry for all the trouble I have caused. I just want to get out of town now.
"My partner has offered to marry me at the end of the year on my 70th birthday and I don't want to be parted from her."
Passing sentence, the judge said there had been no further breaches of the injunction since it was extended to cover the whole city.
"Now you have moved out of Gloucester it is disappointing to hear that the accommodation in Stroud is only available for a few more days," he said.
"There are no mitigating factors but you do have a history of disobeying court orders and this is not the first time you have been in court for breaching court orders.
"For the time being you are no longer in the city of Gloucester and you appear from what you said in court today to want to make a new start.
"I have to be wary of your propensity for you to cause trouble to neighbours so perhaps a custodial sentence should be made. But on the other hand you have moved away from the city.
"The trouble seems to have occurred when you have all been housed together as a group and being separated may be helpful to all of you behaving yourselves.
"Taking all of the factors into account I am going to suspend the prison sentence. The six weeks' custody will be suspended for 12 months."
The family previously caused hell for neighbours in Byron Avenue, Podsmead, before being evicted last year. They then moved to a property in Russell Street.