Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Council CCTV cameras 'treble in 10 years'

A closed circuit camera in central London
Eye in the sky: a closed circuit camera in central London

The number of council-operated CCTV cameras in the UK has nearly trebled in a decade, privacy campaigners say.

Big Brother Watch, which carried out the survey, said there were now 59,753 cameras operated by 418 councils - up from 21,000 cameras 10 years ago.

Director Alex Deane said: "The evidence for the ability of CCTV to deter or solve crimes is sketchy at best."

But councils say the cameras help cut crime, catch criminals and make people feel safer.

The study, entitled Big Brother is Watching, used Freedom of Information Act requests.

They revealed that the councils with most cameras were Portsmouth and Nottinghamshire, which each control 1,454. Fife Council operates 1,350 cameras.

Important tool

Big Brother Watch calculates that, per person, people in the Outer Hebrides were the most watched, with eight cameras for every 1,000 residents.

The UK total of nearly 60,000 cameras excludes the thousands run by private companies and central government.

It is thought that Britain is one of the most-watched countries in the world with an estimated four million security cameras.

Mr Deane said: "The quality of footage is frequently too poor to be used in courts, the cameras are often turned off to save money and control rooms are rarely manned 24 hours a day."

Ministers have said CCTV is "an important tool" in crime fighting.

But a Home Office study found the cameras had a negligible effect on cutting crime.

A Metropolitan Police study found only one crime is solved every year for every 1,000 CCTV cameras.

Dominic Grieve
A Conservative government would ensure CCTV is fit for purpose
Dominic Grieve

The one million cameras in London helped to solve 1,000 crimes last year.

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said: "CCTV can be a valuable tool in the fight against crime, but it must be proportionate and effective.

"The Government's own research shows 80% of CCTV footage can't be used to prosecute criminals.

'Clear evidence'

"A Conservative government would ensure CCTV is fit for purpose - with appropriate safeguards and sanctions to prevent misuse."

A Local Government Association spokesman said: "Local residents consistently tell councils they want additional CCTV installed because it makes them feel safer.

"There is clear evidence from independent studies that CCTV deters crimes such as burglary, and it was footage from these cameras which helped bring the failed July 21 London bombers to justice.

"In tough financial times, councils are not going to spend money on installing CCTV cameras unless they genuinely believe doing so will help reduce crime, catch criminals and make people feel safer."

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