A FORMER Army captain who waged a five-year campaign of hate against her neighbours has been ordered to cough up more than £23,000 in damages.
Karen Russell, who lives in St Monans, Fife, threatened her upstairs neighbours, shouted racist and homophobic abuse, filmed tenants and even accused the flat owner of being unsuitable to work with children.
The woman, who has been described as the “neighbour from hell” by former residents, blocked communal spaces, turned off the water supply, covered lights with bin bags and fabric, and slammed doors so loudly it caused the building to shudder between 2012 and 2017.
Russell has now been ordered to pay landlady Pip Watt – who rented out the flat – £23,479.60 for her loss of earnings and compensation for the harassment she faced.
Sheriff Lorna Drummond made the decision last week following a lengthy civil case at Dundee Sheriff court.
At least three tenants and a workman all fled the property due to Russell’s constant harassment, which also included leaving a four-foot threatening note taped to her neighbour’s door saying, among other things, that she hoped drug addicts broke into their home.
Pip, a 46-year-old education professional from Edinburgh, described the past five years as “a complete nightmare”.
She was put on sleeping tablets by her GP to cope with the anxiety and lack of sleep caused by the dispute.
“I just felt so sick. I was worried all the time. I was wondering what was going to happen next. I was constantly living on the edge, I wasn’t sleeping. It just took over everything. I had to take time off work.”
Problems began when Pip bought the flat in 2012, and realised there was no running water.
She contacted Russell, who lives downstairs, but received no reply as she was away working as a volunteer at the London Olympics.
After engineers investigated, they discovered the water was controlled through Russell’s flat, and a painter working upstairs said he could hear her switching it on and off in her property.
Pip said: “The first time I spoke to her was when she called me at work and told me I was harassing her, and that I wasn’t to contact her again.
“I didn’t know what to do. I had no water in the flat and was just trying to sort it out.”
Eventually a separate supply was plumbed in and the first tenant moved in at the end of September 2013. However Russell’s tirade of abuse didn’t stop. Pip was sent harassing emails and letters, with Russell even contacting her employer accusing the landlord of being a “vile human being” as well as “a bully and not someone who I would place within 100 miles of a child”.
An investigation was launched by Pip’s bosses, forcing her to defend the baseless smears.
Pip said: “There were letters left on my car, calling me a vile human being. There were notes posted on the door as well.
“I have built a business up and I’ve worked so hard to do it, and when she wrote to head office calling me a vile human being I was really worried about my work. “
The first tenant, who worked as a St Andrew’s University lecturer, only lasted three months before she asked to move out, saying the flat was “unfit for human habitation” due to Russell’s abuse.
Russell had left her threatening notes, and in one message called her a thief.
A court judgment described Russell’s behaviour, stating she “repeatedly slammed doors…locked the communal door and threatened to change the lock… hit her roof with a stick…had her television set blaring and removed or smashed light bulbs in the common passageway.”
The second set of tenants – a photographer and his partner – stayed at the flat for six months before leaving when they discovered they were expecting a baby and deciding living next to Russell was “too risky” for their unborn child.
The pair told the court they had found their mail going missing, were repeatedly locked out of the flat and had trouble getting to their front door because Russell had blocked the passageway. They too found the close to be constantly pitch black due to light bulbs being smashed or removed, or pieces of cardboard being stuck in front of the lights.
Matthis Sigalois, 27, was working in a nearby fish factory when he moved in to the property with a pal in 2014. He described what he suffered at the flat as “worse than anything I could have imagined.”
“It was just terrible. She was a horrible neighbour,” he said.
“She did things I would never imagine other people could do when they are living next door.”
Russell – a former Equality and Diversity Adviser in the Army – called Matthis and his friend “Polish scumbags” and used homophobic slurs towards them.
She also accused the pair of assaulting her and reported them to the police on countless occasions.
Matthis, who has now moved away from St Monans, said: “Even if someone let me stay there for free I wouldn’t ever go there again.
“Even if I was going to the shop, just for one minute, she would lock the door on me so I would be locked out. The police had to come about 20 times. She was calling the police almost every second day.”
Sheriff Drummond ruled last week that Russell “took against Pip Watt from the start and deliberately pursued this course of action”.
She also said Russell’s behaviour was “more than could be reasonably tolerated”.
When approached by The Sunday Post, Russell said she plans to appeal the sheriff’s decision and accused Pip of taking the action in an attempt to force her out of her home.
She said:” It’s all been lies. I think this has been done to get me out of my property.
“I’m ex military police, an ex army officer. The sheriff has taken the decision to take the word of two unemployed eastern Europeans over me.”
When asked if she accused Pip of not being suitable to work with children, Russell laughed and said she had done it as a reaction to her flat being flooded.
Pip claims she inherited a leaky shower when she bought the property and fixed the problem.
The £23,479 damages awarded to her applies to £17,220 loss of rent, £1259 council tax payments when the property was empty and £5000 in compensation.