Deactivated: spy cameras that targeted Muslims

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The Independent Online

A police force and local council have bowed to pressure and covered up hundreds of CCTV cameras after residents complained that they were being used to spy on Muslim communities rather than prevent crime. The 216 cameras – a mixture of CCTV and Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANPR) – were put up in two predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods in Birmingham.

But local councillors argued that the areas, Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, were not high-crime neighbourhoods and feared that the reason the cameras – most of which were overt, but some covert – were being placed in those wards was because of the mainly Muslim demographic.

That fear was stoked when it was discovered that the Safer Birmingham Partnerships (SBP), the group responsible for installing the cameras, secured their funding from the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) counter-terrorism budget – Terrorism Allied Matters (TAM).

After objections, the SBP, a partnership of West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council, has agreed to cover the cameras, which were never switched on, as a visual assurance to residents that they will not be used.

The 72 covert cameras, said to be hidden in lampposts and trees, will not be covered, but remain off, according to the SBP, while a public consultation is carried out on their positioning.

It is thought to be the first time that residents have won a public consultation on the positioning of CCTV or ANPR cameras. Usually, the police or council notify councillors of the intention to install cameras, but residents have no say.

Salma Yaqood, a Respect councillor for Sparkbrook, said: "The police and the council told us in April last year that they were going to put these cameras up in high-crime areas, but at the meeting I began to suspect there was an ulterior motive when I noticed it was only councillors from wards with a high Muslim population.

"Their rationale was to cut crime in high-crime areas, but the figures I have seen showed that the two areas were only the seventh and ninth highest crime wards in Birmingham, so I felt it could not be based on that. I felt it was surveillance that was targeting specific communities."

SBP admitted that mistakes were made and said they were covering the cameras during the public consultation period.

A statement said: "We believe it is right to give local people a chance to express their views. We accept that earlier consultation with councillors from Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath – the focus of the project – should have included elected representatives from other areas affected.

"Although the Counter Terrorism Unit was responsible for identifying and securing central government funds...the camera sites were chosen on the basis of general crime data – not just counter-terrorism intelligence. We apologise for these mistakes, which regrettably may have undermined public confidence in the Police and the Council."

Corinna Ferguson, of human rights group Liberty said: "Belated consultation of the communities targeted by Project Champion will give local people a much needed platform to voice their absolute rejection of this discriminatory scheme. Putting bags over cameras will not conceal the project's true agenda, and Liberty will continue to pursue the protection of residents' privacy under the Human Rights Act."

CCTV Britain

4.2 million The estimated number of closed circuit television cameras operating in Great Britain. This means that there is one camera for every 14 people.

20 per cent of the world's CCTV cameras can be found in the United Kingdom, despite the country being home to just one per cent of the globe's population.

300 The number of times the average Briton is captured on CCTV cameras every day.