An anti-social behaviour officer has shared stories of £16 million drug operations, dealing with death threats and meeting Nazi sex offenders in an eye-opening new memoir.
Nick Pettigrew, from Croydon, quit his role as an ASB officer in inner-city estates after over a decade in the position and has detailed one year of his career in Anti-Social: The secret diary of an anti-social behaviour officer, released this week.
In the book – described by comedian Frankie Boyle as ‘hysterically funny and moving’ – he discusses working with vulnerable members of society while dealing with threats made against him – both verbal and physical – as well as his frustration at the lack of communication between authorities.
As well as various tales from the job, readers are given an insight into how his career has affected his mental health, with the book’s prologue admitting the diary will be a means of ‘looking at his career more closely than ever before’.
Towards the end of the memoir, Nick is plagued with ‘fear of being fired’ for under-performing at his job, all while battling both depression and anxiety – and recalled ‘sitting silently screaming at my desk’ unable to admit how much he’s ‘drowning’.
Eventually, Nick was left devastated by the death of a troubled resident, who died alone in hospital unable to make amends with her neighbours, and admitted it was the ‘catalyst’ for him leaving the role he’d held for nearly 20 years.
The memoir begins in January, and readers are quickly introduced to the ‘Nazi sex offender’ who lives in a flat managed by Nick.
He had been arrested for sending anonymous and abusive mail ‘full of Nazi imagery and antisemitic threats’ to police officers.
Police had tracked him down by taking DNA analysis from the letter, which showed the man to be a registered sex offender, already logged in their database.
‘When he answered the door and officers told him why they were there, he promptly collapsed’, wrote Nick.
‘If you’re 74 years old and have a heart condition and a permanent place on the sex offenders’ register, knowing you’re going back to jail can place a strain on your nervous system.’
A police officer from Ringfence, the unit that oversees violent and sexual offenders, later called to give an update on the man, telling Nick he was now able to re-decorate the man’s flat, which had been plastered with swastika symbols.
Nick goes on to explain this was not his first encounter with the officer, who had asked him to re-home a sex offender the previous year for the offender’s own safety.
‘The reason for disclosing his past soon became clear,’ Nick explained. ‘It was how he got himself a new flat when his current one was not to his liking.
‘In the two years he had been free, this was his third.
‘He’d annoy the neighbours, let them know he was a paedophile, let his Ringfence officer know he’d let the neighbours know and let the system do the rest.’
The book touches on Nick’s frustration at authorities’ lack of information-sharing – using ‘Operation Poland’, set up by police to deal with drug dealers in the area, as an example.
The operation uncovered deals taking place using an eight-man crew, two people on pushbikes and the rest in cars, which would go to a pre-allocated location to swiftly hand over drugs to buyers.
‘As many as a dozen sales take place in one stop, usually a “one and one'” (one wrap of crack, one of heroin, because who doesn’t like a chaser with their beer?) for £20,’ wrote Nick.
Operation Poland found evidence of eight phone numbers being overseen by two dealers operating from a nearby flat, with the eight phones making a gross profit of over £16 million a year.
‘All of this happened without any police officer thinking to tell the landlord of over 20 of the dealers involved,’ wrote Nick. ‘Despite the fact that drugs and weapons had been found in the addresses that the council had asked me to keep free of, well, drugs and weapons.’
Nick tells how he was once nearly pushed down the stairs by a woman called Lynne, who had put up posters in his flat branding him a ‘crypto-Islam cabal’ who was coordinating to harass her.
Later, he received a death threat when informing a woman called Lizzie – a 32-year-old homeless woman who was ‘inordinately fond of smoking crack’ – that an injunction to keep her away from a relative’s home could be made permanent.
‘She calmly informs me that I am a f***** c*** and the second she leaves the court building she is going to f***** kill me,’ Nick wrote. ‘”I’d rather you didn’t, Lizzie, thanks,” I say, and leave the room.’
Nick told stories of vulnerable people in need of help, recalling the heartbreaking anecdote of a woman with learning difficulties who was abused by a couple who manipulated her into living in her home.
Phoebe is a woman in her early forties, who, after noticing a young woman called Caitlyn looking cold in the hallway, began striking up conversations with her.
Eventually she asked her in to her home for a hot drink and something to eat and as time went by, Caitlyn began sleeping on Phoebe’s sofa, quickly followed by her boyfriend Frank.
Soon the pair began running errands for her, and later took her bank card as their own, urging Phoebe not to tell her social worker as they ‘wouldn’t believe her’ and would force her into a care home.
‘They started referring to her as their pet dog’, Nick wrote.
‘Dogs eat off the floor, they explained, so the little food she was allowed was dropped onto the kitchen floor for her to eat. They laughed as they watched her eat, Phoebe said.’
One evening, the pair came home intoxicated and Frank unplugged an electrical extension lead from the wall before wrapping the flex cord twice around her neck.
‘Caitlyn told Frank what they should do,’ wrote Nick. ‘”We should chop her up and leave her in bins all around the estate.”‘
Following the incident, Phoebe visited Nick who ensured she would not have to return to her home and had a safe place to sleep that evening.
The pair were later prevented from entering two miles of Phoebe’s flat after an urgent, same-day injunction was filed and they were also banned from contacting her.
Meanwhile, Nick tells the stories of those with significantly less pressing issues, like a woman convinced her upstairs neighbour’s toddler playing with marbles should be viewed as anti-social behaviour.
Colin, who at one point was the third-most-frequent caller to the police in London, in December called to explain he was being exploited for money by a group of youths, who Nick later discovered were carol singers.
Throughout the book, Nick lists the ‘medication’ he is taking, which includes anti-depressant medication and alcohol.
in January, his anti-depressant medication is switched from Sertraline to Mirtazapine by a GB because the former ‘wasn’t working anymore’.
‘I can feel the numbness descending that usually presages a full-blown depression slump so we agree to try Mirtazapine and see if that does the trick,’ writes Nick.
The following month Nick reports that his vivid dreams, caused by the new medication have died down, but he was still suffering from severe anxiety and depression, meaning the GP doubled his dosage.
‘It’s an acid mix of panic,’ he wrote. ‘Unfocussed fear of being fired for not doing my job properly and a general cold, wet duvet of depression flung over the top. You’d think it’s impossible to be both bored and anxious at the same time, but it isn’t.’
Despite stronger medication and admitted self-medicating with alcohol, by June Nick feels his mental health begin to decline further.
‘It’s been going on for months,’ he recalled. ‘With me sitting silently screaming at my desk, feeling unable to admit to the amount of help I need or how much I’m drowning.
‘The logical part of my brain knew that the situation couldn’t continue indefinitely and that at some point somebody would notice.’
In November, Nick hears that a woman called Carla – a resident who often clashed with her neighbours – has died.
She suffered with depression after she lost her child to social services, as the result of an incurable brain tumour.
The tumour had tampered with parts of her brain that dealt with anger management, impulse control, sight, hearing and mobility and she was advised to terminate her pregnancy.
However, Carla chose to have her baby rather than undergo treatment and, in doing so, become lame, dissociative, deaf and in constant chronic pain.
Her child was taken away because of the her inability to cope, and she kept the spare room of her flat furnished with a made-up cot, hoping she one day would regain custody of her child.
‘She never left the hospital ward she had been living in all year,’ Nick explained. ‘She never got better. She never went back home to pick her life up again and try to make things better with her neighbours.’
In the book’s epilogue, Nick admitted: ‘The news about Carla was the ultimate catalyst for my resignation.
‘But that resignation had been in the offing for a long time. I’d seen the job get harder year on year because I’d seen that living on the edges of society is getting harder year on year.’
Speaking of his mental health, Nick added: ‘Only time will tell to what degree the job has prompted the need for medication and alcoholic self-medication.
‘But I feel that if I leave it much longer, it will become beyond my control. Letting it drag me down is unfair on everyone: my colleagues, my family, my friends, my wife and, I suppose, me.’