West Midlands Police's controversial CCTV and ANPR scheme involved the installation of hundreds of cameras in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham. The anti-terror funding and purpose of the project were kept secret from residents.
On Friday 2 July 2010 Liberty Legal Officer Corinna Ferguson sent a letter on behalf of a number of local residents threatening judicial review action against the force if the cameras were not removed. A review of the scheme was announced shortly afterwards.
Chief Constable Sara Thornton’s criticisms of the operation include:
Corinna Ferguson, legal officer at Liberty said:
“One of the most senior police officers in the country has confirmed that this Home Office- West Midlands surveillance project saw “expediency” trumping “legitimacy”. The only way to re-build vital community trust is by taking down these unlawful cameras without delay.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said:
“Chief Constable Thornton’s report is a devastating critique of “Project Champion” that will confirm the community’s worst fears about blanket, discriminatory and unlawful surveillance. Whilst we welcome police attempts to learn from mistakes, there remain serious concerns about the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism that funded this scheme.”
“With a review of Counter-terror policy underway, new Ministers must remember the promises of opposition and challenge the entrenched, unethical and counter-productive advice of hardened securocrats.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
The review is available at http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/latest-news/docs/Champion_Review_FINAL_30_09_10.pdf . Key findings from the report include:
“There is a real opportunity to learn from Project Champion about the damage that can be done to police legitimacy when the police are seen to be acting in a way which prizes expediency over legitimacy. Importantly these lessons need to be learned from a counter terrorism project where the need to maintain public support is even more acute.”
Birmingham Community Safety Partnership commented in 2008, “there needs to be
greater recognition that reducing and preventing crime is not easy and that
ill-conceived solutions are unlikely to work no matter what the investment”.
This was sound advice which was regrettably ignored.”
“During 2007 the threat level in the United
Kingdom was critical and there were many covert
counter terrorist investigations being carried out by the Security Services and
the police. The situation was grave and there were practical difficulties with
the surveillance of suspected terrorists during CTU investigations in the
Sparkhill and Alum Rock areas. A proposal was
made to establish a permanent surveillance capability in the area. While such a
security ring exists in the City of London, this proposal was to create something
similar in a semi-residential, predominantly Asian area. This thinking should
have been challenged from the start and questions should have been asked about
its proportionality, legitimacy, authority and necessity; and about the ethical
values that underpinned the proposal.
Moreover the use of CCTV
and ANPR is subject to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in respect of
covert cameras and Codes of Practice in respect of overt cameras (arguably overt
cameras that are used for a covert purpose could also fall within RIPA in
certain circumstances). Yet I found little evidence of thought being given to
compliance with the legal or regulatory framework.
It was very clear from
the documentary evidence that Project Champion was initiated as a counter
terrorist project but that senior officers saw the opportunity to improve the
camera coverage in the area to reduce crime and disorder and improve community
safety. The force began to work in partnership with Birmingham City Council and
the Safer Birmingham Partnership (SBP) but the project plans were not amended to
reflect the new purpose. Consequently the crime reduction benefits that were
being marketed would not have been delivered by the project
While I appreciate that
senior officers in West Midlands Police cannot be engaged in the detail of every
project, there were opportunities for senior officers and the Police Authority
to provide challenging oversight to Project Champion, but these were missed.
This was particularly the case following the community meeting on 29 April 2009
which should have been a red flag to senior officers, indicating a need to step
back and think through the plans.
Overall the consultation phase was too little too late, and the lack of transparency about the purpose of the project has resulted in significant community anger and loss of trust.”