Council’s spy cameras to tackle wrongdoing

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BIG Brother-style spying has been used to tackle anti-social behaviour and catch out suspected fraudsters across South Holland 35 times in the past three years.

The figures have come to light after a Freedom of Information request was made to the district council by a national organisation which aims to defend civil liberties and protect personal privacy.

They show that covert cameras and visual and audio recording equipment were used six times in the 2010-2011 financial year, 18 times the year before and 11 times in 2008-2009 across South Holland.

Although the council declined to outline most of the reasons for using the equipment, some do show it was to tackle anti-social behaviour, although it does not elaborate on where the equipment was installed.

One incident shows sound recordings were made to check noise levels and another shows observations and surveillance were used in a “finance” investigation.

Big Brother Watch, which compiled a report from the FOI responses of local authorities across the country, also asked for information about any convictions received as a result of surveillance, but South Holland did not provide any details.

A spokesman for the district council said the use of covert surveillance would only ever be used for detecting crime, preventing social disorder or nuisance and improving public safety.

He said: “These methods can be extremely effective in gathering evidence to support a case of anti-social behaviour while at the same time offering reassurance to someone whose life is blighted by such behaviour.

“To protect the welfare and well-being of our residents we have also used such recordings for the purpose of investigating allegations of statutory nuisance with a view to obtaining evidence and subsequently taking enforcement action.”

The report was welcomed by former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, who wrote in a foreword: “It is important the public can have faith that surveillance powers are used only in situations where serious crimes are taking place and when there are no less intrusive routes of investigation.”