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Lives less ordinary: meet the Environmental Health Officer

Posted at 4:15 pm, March 11, 2012 in News

Lives less ordinary: meet the Environmental health officerLondon is jam-packed full of people who make a unique contribution to our city. This week we talk to Kevin, an Environmental Health Officer, who has probably had another busy Saturday night.

Before Kevin Daly leaves his office, he ponders the need for some protective clothing. He walks past a whiteboard that stands in Hackney’s Shacklewell Lane council building. It is covered with addresses, one of which is labelled, ‘DO NOT VISIT AT ALL! Perp abusive/dangerous and has made death threats’. He stops at a cupboard full of stab vests, then turns. ‘Hmm, I’ve never needed one of these yet,’ he smiles. ‘Almost everyone we meet is pretty apologetic.’ And with that we head out into the night.

‘People expect us to be these 17-stone, big, burly fellas,’ says Kevin, climbing into a car with his colleague Paul. ‘But generally, we just try to be tactful. Particularly at 3am or 4am when people have got a lot of alcohol in them.’ Right now, it’s 9.30pm. In his hand is a sheaf of papers, some containing complaints, others indentifying trouble hotspots that they’re checking pre-emptively. Our destination is somewhere that over the past few nights has left a neighbour close to tears. Ten minutes later, we pull up outside. It’s an African church.

Fifty people stand outside whooping. Some are drinking. Many are shrieking with raucous laughter. Occasionally a spontaneous dance breaks out and the crowd loudly clap out a beat. Kevin takes one look and declares, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it’. But what about all the yelling? ‘There’s no music. It’s just people’s voices. The legislation we work under means this is an issue for our anti-social behaviour team. If it was a licensed venue it’d be a different matter and their bouncers would be responsible for dispersing the crowd. Churches are a grey area.’

Smells, however, are not. ‘We deal with odour too,’explains Kevin as we drive through Dalston. ‘One time I turned up at this house and straight away you could smell there was a dead body inside. Once in the house, it was like something out of “The Amityville Horror”. The sinks were literally full of bluebottles.’ The body turned out to be an old man who had died and lain there undiscovered for months.

‘It’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever seen though,’ says Kevin, as we turn down a dark road and start searching for our next destination. ‘That was when I turned up at a party and everyone was naked. The guy who opened the door goes: “Embrace my nudity!” ’ We pull up outside a house. Paul and Kevin both start tutting. ‘Look at that,’ says Kevin, gesturing to two terraced flats whose doors are separated by a foot of wall. ‘This is why we get so many calls. Most houses are just built too close to each other!’ Outside, Kevin loiters behind some bushes. There’s no noise. He knocks on the door of the complaining neighbour. ‘Yeah, sorry,’ she says. ‘The music has already stopped.’

At an estate down the road, Kevin knocks on the door of a ground-floor flat. ‘They’re having a party upstairs,’ complains the tenant. ‘Ten minutes ago the music was making my ceiling shake.’ Upon investigation, even when standing outside the problem flat, all that’s audible are the faint strains of hip hop. It’s not enough to intervene. ‘We get this a lot,’ explains Kevin. ‘Often people play loud music briefly and turn it down by the time we turn up.’ He pauses for a moment to look at the building. ‘A party like this, though? We’ll be back before the night’s out.’ Alexi Duggins

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