Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Leicester City Council used Ripa powers to monitor Bowstring Bridge protests

Regular readers will be familiar with the ultimately unsuccessful campaign fought last year to save Leicester's Bowstring Bridge and the neighbouring Pump and Tap pub.

Today's Leicester Mercury reports:

Leicester City Council used controversial snooping laws to monitor the under-siege Bowstring Bridge site, the Mercury can reveal.

The authority said it applied to use a swivel and zoom function on an on-site CCTV camera to gather evidence after a council officer raised concerns over demolition workers' safety.

It was one of at least 22 covert investigations, or monitoring operations authorised by the authority in the past 12 months under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) – introduced in 2000 to oversee councils' use of surveillance.

The council said it used the powers at the Bowstring Bridge, in the city's West End, because of the risk of trespass, criminal damage and public disorder at the site.

The Ripa was introduced to fight terrorism, but thanks to a series of extension to it introduced by Labour home secretaries we now see it being used against neighbourhood conservation campaigners.

It is also hard to believe the council is being honest. I am sure they were worried about delays to the demolition project and the costs that might result. I can even believe that they might have been worried about the danger to people protesting where heavy plant was being used.

But to argue that they needed to use these surveillance powers because of the threat of public disorder stretches credulity too far.

Finally, note from the Mercury report that these powers were resorted to by Adrian Russell, the council's "director of environmental services" - that is a paid official, not an elected councillor.

I am sure Mr Russell is good at his job - no doubt he started in charge of the paper clips at Worksop Rural District and worked his way up. But to have such powers at the call of someone in his position is a democratic outrage.


crewegwyn said...

"The Ripa [personally I would render it RIPA] was introduced to fight terrorism"

I keep reading this claim, but is it actually accurate?

Or was the RIPA introduced to provide recording and oversight of various existing investigatory powers?

A definitive explanation would be useful.

Charlieman said...

A daft question. But the other 21 occasions when Leicester City Council snooped on people under the RIPA? There'll be another 21 reports and stories in the Mercury?