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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 April, 2005, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
CCTV, the latest must-have for the home
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Magazine

Having conquered the High Street, shopping centres, pubs, car parks and just about every arena of public life, closed-circuit TV is beginning to infiltrate its final bastion: the home.

In Gloucester, Kay Powell was fed up. Her conservatory windows were smashed and graffiti was scrawled across her front door.

So at a cost of about 1,000 and with the help of a techie friend, Ms Powell installed a CCTV system that has cameras trained on her property and which records directly on to a hard drive. Should anyone vandalise her car, or smash the windows - which cost 400 each to replace - or scrawl graffiti on her front door in permanent black marker, she'll have evidence.

Ms Powell's case is at the extreme end of the trend. She's hoping the police can use the CCTV footage to stop what she says is a problem with yobs in her street.

Elsewhere, homeowners are installing spy cameras for the same reasons they already have burglar alarms, outdoor lights and panic buttons: they're just the latest gadget to have in an increasingly security-conscious society.

Fear of crime

Wander into your local branch of Woolworths, B&Q, Argos or Homebase and you will see boxes of CCTV systems stacked alongside more traditional homewares. Prices start at under 30 for a basic black-and-white device. Clearly, you no longer have to be a celebrity, millionaire industrialist or politician to have cameras trained on your doorstep.

"Probably 90% of our sales are to the domestic market," says James Rankin, a director of IView Cameras Ltd, in London. "The people we sell them to are people that have had their cars scratched, or elderly people who are concerned about strangers at the door, or people with nuisance neighbours."

Now you can sit in your front room and watch cats go across your garden. Before, you could only light them up
Mike Presdee
University of Kent criminologist

IView's most popular systems sell for about 230 and that's self-installed. It also offers a national installation service, for a price. Sales have been steady for the past three years, Mr Rankin says, but the company has seen growing demand since last summer.

"The type of person we get varies from someone who lives in a council estate to someone who has a mansion in the country," Mr Rankin says. "The need for CCTV doesn't depend on how much money you have. It depends on your need for security, and your level of fear."

It's that increasing fear of crime - blamed, by some, on a combination of sensationalist press coverage and ever-more realistic movies and TV dramas - that drives the need for security, says Mike Presdee, a criminologist at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

Home is a castle

"It's sort of like what we used to call Fortress Britain," Mr Presdee says, noting CCTV is the hi-tech descendant of the motion-sensor lights illuminate walkways and gardens. "Now you can sit in your front room and watch cats go across your garden. Before, you could only light them up."

You can run, but you can't hide

Kidding aside, he notes the increased use of CCTV should be linked to society's growing paranoia that each of us will be a victim of crime, regardless of whether that's justified. "It doesn't make you any safer, but it does keep up the fear," he says.

People may believe they're in a more dangerous part of town when they walk down the street and see houses kitted out with CCTV, and that perception may then result in the installation of more cameras and more security.

However, converts to domestic CCTV, like Kay Powell, would disagree, believing their cameras deter trouble.

CCTV for the home is different from the covert systems that some people set up inside the home to monitor, for example, how a babysitter or nanny interacts with their children. Those who have CCTV mostly want people to know that they're being watched, because that in itself is a deterrent.

High-tech curtain-twitching

Mr Rankin says many of IView's customers are referred to them by police, who he says often suggest it as a security measure. The Gloucester police say the decision is up to the individual.

Footage from CCTV can be used to investigate crimes and in court, though a parliamentary report warned that the images should be of decent enough quality that identities and actions can actually be seen.

Late last year, the Home Office released a report on the effectiveness of CCTV in public areas. It found that the cameras worked best as part of a "package of measures" - in car parks, for example, that could also include better lighting, security guards, and a public awareness campaign.

Mr Presdee isn't so sure the proliferation of private CCTV is driven by more than an interest in what the neighbours are up to.

"It isn't much different than Mrs Smith looking out the curtains all day long and calling the police when kids knock over the dustbin," he says. "It's really a high-tech form of peeking through the curtains."


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