Even criminals welcome street spy cameras

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WITH CCTV again hailed as the crime-busting innovation of the Nineties, helping to convict Steven Hughes of the murder of his son's girlfriend in Wakefield last week, approval of its presence on Britain's streets has come from an unlikely source - the criminals themselves.

A poll, published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Criminology, of offenders living in Airdrie, near Glasgow, the first British town to install closed-circuit cameras, found them broadly in favour of the cameras in the town centre.

As a 29-year-old former probationer put it: "My mum, she says there's somebody watching you all the time. I say, 'Aye, I think it's a good thing, to be honest with you, [it] prevents a lot of crime' ... you know what I mean?"

The offenders even said it made them feel safer after dark, when alcohol- fuelled violence turned the town centre into a danger zone.

A 25-year-old man, convicted of drug offences, thought CCTV had definitely reduced late-night trouble. He said: "If you're going out at night, you can walk down the street with your girlfriend.

"Airdrie before was a bad place. At night you used to see guys getting kickings all over the place."

A 35-year-old man, doing community service for assaulting police and breach of the peace, agreed that the cameras had made a difference, "because you don't get everybody standing in the street drinking in doorways, things like that".

He continued: "Like [at] that pizza shop, there was fighting outside every night at the weekend. Slashings, you know, things like that.

"There was fighting in the street. But the cameras are going all the way now, and they go up the side street, so it's dead on the weekend now, you know."

Researchers interviewed 30 offenders. All were highly aware of the cameras' placements overlooking the town centre and many had observed the cameras scanning up and down watching out for them. Indeed, one had even attended an open day at the town's police station to discover how the system worked.

Airdrie police have recorded a drop of 21 per cent in town-centre offences since the cameras were switched on.

Aldo Sidonio, an Airdrie cafe owner and the crime spokesman for the Scottish Federation of Small Businesses, agreed: "It has worked here and the CCTV has made the town safer for everyone, even the criminals."

Since 1992 there has been an explosive growth in street surveillance CCTV in the UK. In 1995, the Home Office announced financial support for 105 schemes in England and Wales with pounds 80m of funding. Scotland now has 12 operational schemes and 32 more are in the pipeline.