Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Anti-terror laws used on Northampton dog owners!

The council says it only tracks suspected offenders (picture posed by models)

The council says it only tracks suspected offenders (picture posed by models)

Published Date: 20 May 2008

By Wayne Bontoft

Hardline surveillance laws designed to target terrorists have been used in Northampton to catch badly behaved dog owners who let their pets foul on the grass.

When it was introduced by the Government in 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was designed to tackle serious criminals and terrorists.
Northampton Borough Council has used the legislation to spy on irresponsible dog owners, noisy neighbours and benefit fraudsters. A spokesman said the powers had been used carefully and sparingly.
The council's use of the powers has been condemned by one of RIPA's biggest critics, Northampton South MP Brian Binley.
He said: "I don't believe local authorities should have these powers at all. Where there's a crime, it should be for the police to investigate.
"I'm afraid we're reaching the stage now where Big Brother is becoming a reality."
He was backed by professional dog walker Diane Simons, of Wakes Meadow in Northampton.
She said: "I think it's a shocking waste of taxpayers' money. I'm all in favour targeting people who are known for not picking up after their dogs, but there has to be easier ways than this."
Figures released by the borough council show that, since 2000, surveillance techniques such as the use of mobile cameras or officers watching a specific target had been used to investigate 19 cases, including dog fouling, fraud, noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour.
Following surveillance jobs, dog owners were given £50 on-the-spot fines for five offences seen by council officers and action was taken in eight fraud cases. But in six cases – investigating noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour and benefit fraud – no action was taken.
A spokesman for the local authority said: "The council has used its powers under this act carefully and sparingly.
"We apply the regulations very strictly, to catch fly-tippers, for example, but we do this only where there is intelligence to suggest this will be worthwhile, never just as a trawl in the hope of catching someone.
"Authorisation to use these powers has to be agreed by an appropriately trained officer of the council and then approved by a senior legal officer.
"We have not used covert surveillance at any time in the past year."
In April, Northamptonshire County Council also released details showing how many times it had used surveillance techniques in the previous year.
The county council used the legislation 12 times, to spy on suspected arsonists, doorstep criminals and fraudsters.

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