Tribunal condemns council spying

Town hall snoopers were dealt a blow today after a landmark ruling against a council that spied on a family to check they were living in the right school catchment area.

Jenny Paton, Tim Joyce and their three daughters were under covert surveillance by Poole Borough Council for three weeks in 2008.

The council claimed it was acting under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to check the family lived in the catchment area where the children went to school.

But the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) said it was not a proper purpose and nor was it necessary to use the surveillance powers.

It is the first time these powers have been challenged at an open hearing before the IPT.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for civil rights group Liberty, said: "Intrusive surveillance is vital to fighting terrorism and serious crime, but weak legal protections and petty abuses of power bring it into disrepute.

"Former ministers claimed that the innocent had nothing to fear but the sinister treatment of Jenny and her kids proves that these powers need to be far more tightly restricted and supervised."

The IPT also found that the surveillance breached the family's right to privacy under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

The Government is reviewing the use of RIPA powers by local authorities as part of the Counter Terror Review announced by the Home Secretary last month.

The coalition agreement stated that the Government would limit local authority use of RIPA to "stopping serious crime" and only when approved by a magistrate.

Miss Paton, from Poole, only found out she had been under surveillance when it was revealed during a meeting with council officials to discuss their school application.

They were tailed round the clock, spied on at home and their movements were recorded in detailed surveillance forms. Their car was also described as a "target vehicle".

A Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman said: "Councils need these powers to target serious criminals such as fly tippers, rogue traders and benefit fraudsters but they should also make sure these powers are used proportionally and the public have confidence in them."

The ruling, which was made public today but dated July 29, stated: "The Tribunal have concluded that the surveillance was not proportionate and could not reasonably have been believed to be proportionate."

It added: "The authorisation applied for and granted on February 8 2008 and acted on by the council did not comply with the requirements of RIPA and was invalid; and the complainants have been unlawfully subjected to directed surveillance."

The council argued that the covert surveillance, which took place between February 10 and March 3 2008, was lawful under RIPA for the over-subscribed and successful school.

The council had received two phone calls from members of the public making formal complaints alleging that the family was not living at the property in the catchment area.

The second caller said Miss Paton had boasted about pretending to live in the property. The family also owned two flats in another property out of the catchment area and both addresses were kept under surveillance.

A Borough of Poole spokesman said: "The council accepts fully the ruling of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and would like to apologise to Ms Paton and her family for any distress caused as a result of its actions in this case.

"As the local education authority, the council has a duty to uphold the integrity of the school admission process.

"The council takes this responsibility very seriously and has always sought to ensure that the process is fair for all families and not open to abuse by those who may seek to exploit the system to the disadvantage of other parents and children."

The council no longer uses RIPA for investigating potentially fraudulent applications for school places following a scrutiny committee review, approved by the cabinet in December 2008.

The tribunal also criticised the fact that the children were made targets of surveillance despite being innocent of any wrongdoing.

It raised concerns that no consideration or allowance was made to prevent this when planning the covert operation which involved an education officer spying on them from a parked car.

He also drove past the two properties looking for their car and to see whether their properties were being used.

No digital camera or recording equipment of any kind was actually used in the surveillance.

John McBride, chief executive of Borough of Poole, said: "We have had plenty of time to think about what was said in the tribunal.

"We are sorry we did it, we stopped doing it nearly two years ago and we fully accept all the findings of the tribunal.

"We really got it wrong on that occasion - not just wrong but really wrong and for that I'm sorry.

"I'm not trying to deflect from that but there are, sadly, some parents who do give false information and we have a responsibility to families in that area to do some checks.

"In this case someone disproportionately triggered surveillance and we should not have done that."

The school in question, Lilliput First School, graded outstanding by Ofsted, has 90 places for the coming reception year and 24 pupils on the waiting list.

Ms Ferguson said: "This case demonstrates the real dangers of delegating intrusive policing powers to bureaucrats who are not best placed to balance privacy and law enforcement. If the law isn't significantly tightened, more abuses, legal cases and crises of public trust will no doubt follow."

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: "This is an appalling abuse of state powers, and I fear it is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Town halls are not the secret service or the police, but surveillance powers designed to tackle terror and the most serious crimes have been over-used and misused.

"Britain is not a totalitarian state, but we have some laws which are as draconian and arbitrary.

"The new Government will stand up for the privacy and liberty of law-abiding citizens, and change the law to stop the rise of a Town Hall Stasi."

In an interview with Sky, the couple spoke of their relief at the ruling.

Miss Paton said: "Obviously we are delighted and very much relieved that, after a two-and-a-half-year battle, the IPT has upheld our complaint and considers that the 22 days of surveillance that Poole Council put us under was indeed unlawful."

Mr Joyce said: "We felt when we arrived before the IPT that they had some sympathy for our position, but we said it was in no way clear that we would get such a resounding, successful result with no ambiguity at all."

Miss Paton revealed that they brought the case through the IPT in order to "test" the legislation.

She said: "We did not bring it to be exonerated or to claim any compensation for injured feelings. This was really about bringing a case so other people could see just how absurd and insidious this piece of legislation actually is."

The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone