I'm very glad to hear the continuing hostility towards councils that spy on their rate payers. I must confess that it did not come as a surprise to hear how widespread and covert these council operations are, especially since we and our fellow moorers are part of a similar investigation.
The Vale Of White Horse District Council are concerned that there may be people living aboard their boats in a location that does not permit residential use of moorings. We are the official security boat here and so have permission to be here in the capacity that we are. Every other boater who has a mooring here comes for some peace and quiet and for a break from the everyday stresses of life. In order to obtain a mooring at this site you must have a residential address elsewhere. But, of course, what reason does the council have to believe that this is true?
At a public meeting of the Development Committee on 12th may 2008 the enforcement officer admitted that he had made 28 early morning and late night visits to the moorings and had taken over 214 photographs of the site. The council claims that this is perfectly acceptable as it "does not involve systematic surveillance of an individual". So, why have individuals had photographs taken of them arriving and leaving their moorings? Our boat and car appeared on photographs shown at the council meeting and one female moorer has felt intimidated by the actions of the enforcement officer towards her. Out of curiosity, how is 28 site visits not systematic, and is surveillance of individuals perfectly acceptable?
It is also interesting that after a complaint from a boat owner the chief executive of the Vale Of White Horse District Council declared that the operation carried out by their enforcement officer was not covert but we could not be informed of the surveillance as we would change our pattern of behavior giving an inaccurate account of the activities at the moorings. So...it was covert then.
The same boater has also asked the council to provide him with the Planning Enforcement Policy and their Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and has yet to receive a response. It is interesting that the RIPA Policy is available from other councils such as North East Lincolnshire Council who state that
Covert Surveillance will only be authorised where it:-
• is lawful under the Act
• complies with Human Rights legislation
• is necessary
• is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved
• is not “intrusive” (as defined by the Act)
and will not be carried out for longer than is necessary.
Are we to presume that this act differs between local authorities? The investigation of our moorings is still ongoing after 3 months - How long does it take to establish where people live? I would suggest that may be they start with the telephone directory. Might I also suggest that the council also pay attention to the Office of Surveillance Commissioners for some guidance and training on how to approach the delicate matter of surveillance.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, a number of boaters have asked for copies of all photographs and logs recorded of themselves visiting their OWN property during this ongoing monitoring process. There has been no response to date.
It is interesting to note that the local council describes anti-social behaviour as "any activity that impacts on other people in a negative way". I hate to be pedantic, but this systematic spying really is not the most pleasant of experiences. In fact, it is rather negative and perhaps qualifies themselves for their own ASBO.