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Spy powers used 600 times by local authorities

Staffordshire | News | Published:

Surveillance powers were used by councils in the region to catch out fraudsters and fly-tippers almost 600 times over the past four years, new figures have revealed.

Surveillance powers were used by councils in the region to catch out fraudsters and fly-tippers almost 600 times over the past four years, new figures have revealed.

Local authorities set up spying operations to catch dodgy dealers and people who do not clean up after their dogs.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the use by councils of the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was set up under anti-terrorism measures. But some campaigners have fears over the use of the law.

Big Brother Watch has called for a clampdown on its use, saying that the powers can be open to abuse.

Walsall Council was the biggest user of the act in the Black Country and the fifth largest user in the whole country, having carried out 202 operations under RIPA since 2008.

It mainly used it to watch people cheating with their housing benefit claims, fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour and trading standards operations.

But the figure also included nine cases of "staff working privately while absent on sick leave and insurance claims from injured parties".

Sandwell Council used it 179 times, all for trading standards, environmental health and allegations of supply of drugs following public concerns.

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Wolverhampton City Council had 168 operations including rogue traders, benefit fraudsters, noise nuisances and shadow car dealers. It had one instance of watching a "dog fouling hotspot".

Dudley Council only invoked the act 18 times, 14 of them in 2008/9. Most were for catching people selling alcohol to children.

Cannock Chase used it 14 times for fly tipping, dumping and a case of dog fouling.

In Stafford it was used nine times and South Staffordshire Council used the act four times against fly-tippers.

Lichfield District Council carried out three operations to watch fly-tipping in 2008/9, and Wyre Forest District Council has twice watched suspected benefit fraudsters.

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