Page last updated at 10:00 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 11:00 UK

Council 'acted like Dick Tracy'

An MP has accused his local borough council of acting like comic strip detective Dick Tracy by misusing surveillance laws.

Brian Binley MP said the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, designed to track criminals and terrorists, was used to catch dogs fouling on grass.

The Northampton South MP said the council misused the act 19 times, and urged councils to stop using the law.

A Northampton Borough Council spokesman said it used the powers appropriately.

We really are turning local authorities into private detectives or the equivalent of KGB operatives
Brian Binley, MP

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) came into force in 2001 to allow bodies to use methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.

Information from the council shows it has used the Ripa surveillance powers 19 times since the act came into force.

These were for dog fouling five times - where dog owners were issued with fixed penalty notices after they were caught. Surveillance was used by the council in six benefit fraud cases, four further cases of fraud, two cases of noise nuisance and two cases of anti-social behaviour.

Sparingly used

Mr Binley said: "As I understand it, what is happening is that somebody is naming a dog owner whose dog is defecating on the pavement and the dog owner is not picking it up.

"So what the borough of Northampton does is go out with a secret camera.

"I just wonder whether the people in this country want this world or not - I suspect they do not.

"I am perfectly happy to give police powers in order to fight terrorism and very serious crime, but when it gets to this level you really have to question it."

A spokesman for Northampton Borough Council said the council had used its powers 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," the spokesman said.

"We have not used covert surveillance at any time in the past year."


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