Council Spooks Deployed Against Boaters

Residential Boats on Midsummer Common
Residential Boats on Midsummer Common

Cambridge City Council has reportedly used tactics one might expect to see in an episode of Spooks, or used in serious criminal investigations, to probe the living arrangements of those living on boats moored in the city.

Amy Tillson, who lives on a boat on the river, and who represents boaters at meetings with the council, has stated council staff have been monitoring boater’s lights, smoke, and even footprints, at various times of the day and into the evening.

It appears the prime aim has been to determine if boats moored in areas the City Council controls are being used in compliance with the residential boat mooring licences the council issues.

As well as the undercover operation it appears the council has carried out a questionnaire and face to face interviews with boaters, during one of which Amy Tillson has stated an admission of breaching the licence terms was made:

Attempts were made to carry out the surveillance surreptitiously; those attending the recent Friends of Midsummer Common AGM were told the council had asked them not to discuss boaters’ compliance with their licence conditions. While the matter was raised anyway by members of the public, the reason for the council’s attempted silencing of the group on this matter was not given during the formal public element of the meeting.

One of the local ward councillors said she was unaware her council required those licenced to moor boats on the city council’s land were required to live aboard them full time:

FOI Request

A freedom of information request I made to the council asking them exactly what they’ve been up to, and what they found, was initially met with a denial that they’d been doing any kind of survey of the boats and those living aboard them.

It will be interesting to find out if the activities of boaters have been photographed or filmed by the council to amass evidence and if the spying work has been carried out by the council’s own staff or if private investigators have been brought in.

CCTV Monitoring Riverside Bins

Cambridge City Council has also recently posted new, intrusive, signs on the riverside bins on Jesus Green.

At the West/Central Area Committee on the 25th of April I used the open forum to draw councillor’s attention to these signs, and note I could see no visible CCTV cameras. I questioned if the signs were inaccurate, or if hidden cameras had been deployed. I am awaiting a response from the council.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

Surveillance by councils of specific people, or groups of people, is regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

As of 1 November 2012 amendments to RIPA enacted by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 came into force meaning court approval is now needed when councils wish to conduct spying operations.

It will be interesting to see if the council’s recent activity targeted against those living on boats in the city has been put to magistrates, and if not how the council justifies not doing so.

As yet the details of exactly what the council has been doing have not emerged, I am still awaiting answers to the questions, and freedom of information request, which I have raised.

See Also

I have previously written related articles:

14 responses to “Council Spooks Deployed Against Boaters”

  1. Cambridge City Council has failed to respond to my FOI request within the 20 working day deadline set out by the FOI Act.

    At the Cambridge City Council full council on the 23rd of May 2013 Cllr Richard Johnson used an oral question to ask about the spying and if it was RIPA compliant.

    Cllr Reiner, who has just taken on responsibility for the area, responded.

    Cllr Reiner claimed to have started with her response with the single word “yes” to confirm the actions had been RIPA compliant; before elaborating on the way the spying had been conducted. I didn’t hear the “yes”, and neither did Cllr Johnson. New Mayor Paul Saunders harshly ruled that Cllr Johnstone had used up his opportunity for a supplementary question by simply seeking clarification as to if his tabled question had actually been answered.

    Cllr Reiner stated that Cambridge City Council officers, wearing high vis and clear IDs, had conducted four “walk by” inspections of boats earlier in the year and had noted the presence of cobwebs and ivy indicating boats had not been accessed.

    Cllr Reiner also demonstrated she had now got to grips with the council’s policy on requiring holders of council residential boaters’ licences to use the craft as their primary residence.

  2. Responding to a question I’d asked at an earlier meeting the 20 June 2013 West/Central Area Committee was told that the CCTV signage on the riverside bins had been removed as there was in fact no CCTV covering the area and therefore the signs were contrary to council policy. The signs have gone.

  3. Following an internal review of their response to my FOI request the council is now denying it carried out any survey of the boats (the internal review response sneakily switches the wording from “survey of boats” which I asked for information, to “survey on boats” which is what the latest response explicitly denies they have done).

    Council officer Toni Ainley’s denial any survey was carried out is in direct conflict with what executive councillor Andrea Reiner told the full council on the 23rd of May when she described how the surveys had been conducted via four “walk by” inspections.

    The council is now denying those inspections took place and refusing to release what they found.

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