The Bromford Housing Group (BHG) told the editor of the ‘Staffordshire Phoenix’s to report a man seen in one of their Whittington flats to the police.
Then they threatened the journalist with court action if he published the story, or revealed the identify of the man inside the empty property, on Blacksmith Lane.
The bizarre story unfolded after the man allegedly began staring into the journalist’s first floor office across the street and waving at him.
It allegedly went on for several hours.
Watching woman – claim
It is claimed the man in a yellow hi-vis jacket kept a close watch on a female resident too, for more than an hour.
She alleged that every time she went into her kitchen she could see him staring and waving at her.
She claimed the same thing happened whenever she went past the window on her staircase, or outside into her garden.
‘Creepy’ – alleged
The woman alleged: “It was creepy and intimidating. His face was deadpan and unsmiling.”
‘Phoenix’ editor, Gareth Griffiths, alleged that the man kept staring straight at him as he sat at his desk at the back of his office, about four metres away from the window.
He claimed the man was scowling. “I found it very unnerving,” he said.
Bromford man not working – claim
Griffiths also alleged that the man did not appear to be doing any work in the flat.
He added: “The police often urge the public to report suspicious behaviour.
“We have recently received a number of warnings from them about bogus workmen operating in Staffordshire.
“There are elderly and vulnerable people living in our community.
‘Stay vigilant’ – police
“Unaccompanied children walk past the Bromford flat on their way home from school.
“We had no idea who this man was, or what he was doing in the empty flat.
“We have also learned that two men had twice been seen moving around in the property in the evenings during the previous week.
“I got on the phone to BHG while the ‘staring man’ was still looking straight at me and waving.
“They said no one was supposed to be on the premises. So it seemed he must have broken in.
“But instead of taking action themselves, BHG told me to ring the police. I was absolutely astonished.”
The police found nothing suspicious at the property.
Yet 24 hours after the ‘999’ call BHG was still claiming no one was supposed to have been in the flat.
‘Phoenix’ sent evidence
When the company declined to answer questions about the incident, Griffiths sent them a picture of the man.
Then Bromford’s ‘head of localities’ said he was their employee after all.
But she dismissed the residents’ claims about his behaviour as, “unfounded accusations”.
Taking the air?
He was merely, “visiting the window to get air while he worked and was unaware that this would concern surrounding residents”, she said.
So the ‘Phoenix’ wrote to BHG’s £205,000-a-year chief executive, Philippa Jones.
That was followed by a threatening letter from the company’s London lawyers.
They said BHG’s employee had not acted inappropriately.
He and their client, they added, had rights to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They said BHG “required” two days notice before the story went online so they could take out a court injunction to stop it appearing.
They warned that their client would pursue the publication for damages and costs if it did publish.
The ‘Phoenix’ sent back a series of images it claims show that it was BHG’s ‘staring man’ who had been invading people’s privacy.
BHG’s communications manager, Jarrod Williams, responded, saying: “I want to assure you we are not disputing what you and other local residents experienced . . . if a colleague made you or other residents feel ‘threatened’, this is not acceptable.
“. . . there have been some failures in how we handled the process, and for this we hold our hands up.”
He said they thought someone had gained unauthorised entry to the flat.
That was why they told the editor to ring the police, he explained, admitting that BHG took no action itself after receiving his call.
Williams said, “we are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Bromford had no idea
He also said that until the ‘Phoenix’ sent them a picture of the ‘staring man’ they had no idea who he was.
And he said they still have no idea who the two men were who were visiting the flat in the evenings.
Williams added that the flat’s locks had now been changed.
The ‘staring man’s name is unknown.
Nor is it known if any action was taken about his alleged conduct following the villagers’ complaints.
Legal threat remains
It is understood that BHG’s threat of legal action remains in place should the ‘Phoenix’ publish any image that identifies him.
The company’s ‘communications specialist’ said it was because of the allegations.
She said identifying him could lead to, “vigilante actions”, “retribution”, and, “life-changing consequences”.