Media snap up suicide bid tape

Nick Cohen
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:32

GEOFF PECK, 40 years old, unemployed and with a girlfriend suffering from Hepatitis C, found life too much eight months ago. He walked into the street outside his council flat at midnight and slashed his wrists.

The sad story had a happy ending. He was filmed by one of the 17 security cameras that Brentwood council, in Essex, had installed around its area, and police officers came to his rescue.

He was treated by a police surgeon and was back home by the morning. That seemed to be that. Mr Peck started to feel better and picked up part- time work in a pub. "Life wasn't brilliant," he said, "but we were pulling ourselves together."

But for three weeks Mr Peck has been forced to relive the lowest point of his life. He has seen it on BBC, ITV and in pictures in the local press. The council, without asking his permission, sent the tapes to any newspaper or broadcaster who wanted them as part of its campaign to trumpet the effectiveness of closed-circuit television.

The effect of the unsought publicity was to shatter the fragile life Mr Peck was building. "My neighbours were talking about me behind my back," he said. "They probably think they've got a mad knifeman living next door."

Civil-rights campaigners have seized on the council and the broadcasters with relish. They believe they have the case they need to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to force Britain to enact a privacy law to protect the public against covert cameras.

Philip Leach, legal officer for Liberty, said: "Closed-circuit television is spreading across the country and no one controls who sets it up, who is filmed and what use is made of the film afterwards."

Mr Peck had no prior warning that the council was going to put him into documentaries. He found out only when neighbours stopped his partner in the street and said they had "seen her old man" trying to kill himself on Anglia Television. The couple started to "get looks" and suspect that everyone on the estate was talking about them.

Then pictures of Mr Peck with the police appeared twice in the a local free newspaper. Finally, in the days before 11 March, trailers started to run for Crime Beat, one of the many BBC true-crime series, whichagain showed him waiting to die.

Mr Peck thinks he knows why the council gave the tape out. "It is drunk with publicity," he said. "I think they thought, `Oh my god, it's the BBC and it wants Brentwood council's videos. Give them everything'.

"I wouldn't have minded if it was for a police training film - I've nothing against the Old Bill, they saved my life - but this was salacious and cheap television which lumped me together with criminals. Didn't anyone wonder what effect this could have on someone who had already tried to commit suicide?"

Brentwood council has refused to apologise to Mr Peck. David Marchant, its director of technical services, said it wanted to show the uses of the cameras, which cost pounds 100,000 a year.

"The council has democratically drawn up guidelines on publicity," he said. "We want to show CCTV very positively and present a positive image to the world."

The decision to release film of Mr Peck, which was not approved by the councillors, was taken so that people would realise that cameras can save lives, he added.

The BBC was more contrite. It apologised to Mr Peck when he complained just before Crime Beat went out. An attempt was made to disguise his face in the programme, but it could be seen in trailers and in still photographs used in the closing credits. Crime Beat made it clear that the man with the knife lived in Brentwood.

A spokeswoman said that the BBC did have privacy guidelines but that people in public places could not expect tight protection.

There are about 200,000 security cameras in Britain and another 300,000 are expected by the end of the century. The 1994 Criminal Justice Act removed all restrictions on what ministers see as a useful weapon against crime.

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