A FATHER-of-two has told how his family was spied on by neighbours – turning their lives into a “living hell.”
Cameras and microphones were installed by owners of a B&B below Tony Woolley’s Murrayfield home after a row over plans to turn the guesthouse into a bail hostel.
Tony and wife Debbie, of Corstorphine Road, were awarded £17,000 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last week.
Sheriff Nigel Ross said the actions of neighbour Nahid Akram, a solicitor, had been “intrusive, excessive and unjustified”.
Speaking to the Evening News following the judgement, Tony said the ordeal had left his wife and daughter “petrified”.
He said: “They were on all the time, 24 hours a day for two-and-a-half years, watching us come in and out.”
The Woolleys moved into their then £265,000 two-bedroom flat in 2012, seeing it as the ideal place to bring up daughter Louisa, now 17, while son Joseph, 21, would also visit.
Problems began in 2013 when the Akrams applied to change the use of their property from a guest house into a bail hostel for up to 18 accused at a time.
Tony and Debbie opposed the application and it was subsequently refused by the city council, sparking a spat between the two families.
Both parties installed CCTV cameras, the Woolleys’ system covering the front of their house, a staircase to their entrance door at the side and their garden. The Akrams installed four cameras and four audio recording boxes, which operated 24 hours a day and were set to record permanently . . . but all pointing at the Woolleys’ home.
“When they were installed, my wife went out and spoke to the engineer who was putting the boxes up and was told they were just junction boxes,” said investment contractor Tony, 46.
“But, in fact, it was highly intrusive equipment that’s only allowed in exceptional circumstances – by the police or security services.”
Sheriff Ross noted that CCTV cameras installed by the Akrams, who live in Granton, were deliberately set to cover the Woolleys’ private property.
The cameras at the front of the house recorded every person approaching the Woolleys’ house and, at the rear, their private garden.
Sheriff Ross said “there was no legitimate reason for the nature and extent of such video coverage”.
Some of the equipment remains and Tony now plans to pursue enforcement action with the Information Commissioner’s Office to have it removed.
Describing the effects on his family, Tony said: “We had to moderate our behaviour.
“In the summer, we couldn’t have barbecues and have friends round.
“We had two little rabbits and my daughter, who was 14 at the time, never went out to feed them because she was petrified.”
The audio recording boxes were capable of picking up conversations in the Woolleys’ rear garden.
Sheriff Ross said Nahid Akram’s husband Sohail, who was manager of the Murrayfield Park Guest House, taunted the Woolleys about his ability to listen to them by “putting his hand to his ear to mime listening to their conversation”,
“On another occasion when away from the house, Mr Akram had texted her [Debbie] to tell her they knew her daughter was in the house. She found this extremely sinister,” continued Sheriff Ross’ judgment.
Two of the audio boxes were situated immediately below the Woolleys’ front bedroom windows and they feared conversations inside their home were also being recorded.
“On a nice day, we had to sit around the side of the house, knowing it wasn’t being filmed but we knew there was audio as well so couldn’t even speak,” said Tony. “We’d be sat there whispering – it makes you feel that your human rights have been violated.
“Louisa would want to sit out in the nice weather like any girl her age in her bathing costume but she couldn’t.
“There could be other people out there in a similar situation.”
Despite the upset caused, Tony and Debbie, 50, were determined to stay in the family home – even though they were running up a £30,000 legal bill.
Tony said: “It definitely had a detrimental effect on the value of this property. It’s a fantastic location.
“People asked me why I didn’t move but I didn’t want to sell this problem to someone else. How would I feel if I sold somebody this?
“We’ve lived in different places and always had really good relationships with our neighbours but this was horrendous.
“We were embarrassed by it. People would come round to see us and we’d have to tell them not to speak at the front of the house because they’re being recorded.
“Anybody walking down the street, at some point, could’ve been recorded. Even their own guests in the B&B.
“They could’ve been stood in the car park, having a cigarette, and been recorded and wouldn’t have known.
“It was a living hell. Sometimes you’d be outside and forget about the microphones and then ask yourself what you said.
“The microphones probably had the ability to listen into our house. They were right under our bedroom window. We had to keep the windows shut at the front.”
Debbie, 50, a nanny, said: “It has been an extremely stressful time for us as a family to feel so uncomfortable and oppressed, knowing persons who dislike you so much watch, monitor and record your family home.
“Most disturbing is that recordings from within our home have most probably been recorded by the audio boxes below our bedroom windows – disgusting behaviour.”
Tony added: “I should feel vengeful but just feel a bit sad about it.
“I just think people should know what we’ve been through – maybe it can help others.”
Sheriff Ross declared that the Woolleys had suffered “considerable distress” as he awarded them compensation.
“They have all been severely restricted in the use and enjoyment of their own home,” said Sheriff Ross.
“They voluntarily restrict their external movements. They restrict their conversations, both inside and outside their home.
“They have suffered extreme stress as a result of the defender’s unfair processing of their personal data.”
A Police spokeswoman said: “Police in Edinburgh have received a number of complaints from addresses in Corstorphine Road regarding issues between neighbours.
“Several complaints were made by both parties in March and April 2015 relating to surveillance equipment.
“A live interdict was in place regarding this issue as part of an ongoing civil case and appropriate advice was given.”
And a spokesperson for the ICO said: “Where a concern is reported to us about the use of CCTV on domestic property we provide relevant advice about the responsibilities that come with gathering and storing CCTV images of individuals.”
The Akrams did not respond to requests for comment.