Council uses surveillence
COVERT surveillance has been used three times by Crawley Borough Council to tackle anti-social and criminal behaviour.
The council used the investigatory powers in three separate cases in the last three years – two of antisocial behaviour and one of criminal damage in council housing.
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) local authorities have the power to carry out surveillance and investigations, including intercepting communications.
Senior council officers can approve the surveillence but from November 2012 it will be subject to a serious crime test and must be signed off by magistrates.
The Act has been criticised by civil liberties groups and dubbed a ‘snooper’s charter’.
Of the three investigations in Crawley evidence was only obtained in one. In the first case the council investigated allegations of loud music, excessive drinking and verbal abuse, in 2008/09.
In the second case the allegations of criminal damage, drug use, rowdy behaviour and general disturbances were investigated, in 2009/10.
The council were able to hand the evidence to the police who obtained a closure order on the property in the 2009/10 case.
In both instances the powers were used because witnesses were fearful of reprisals and evidence could not be obtained overtly, the council said.
In the third case allegations of criminal damage being caused to the communal doors of a council-owned block of flats was investigated.
A spokesman for Crawley Borough Council said: “The council currently has statutory powers to make use of covert surveillance for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder. The council reviews the use of RIPA on a case by case basis and the seriousness of allegations of ASB will be taken into account. All authorisations under RIPA must document the purpose of the specific covert operation and why it is necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances. All authorisations must be signed off by a senior council officer (director/head of service level). Please note that from 1/11/12 the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will require all council surveillance to receive magistrate approval and covert surveillance will be subject to a serious crime test.”
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