Big Brother Watch warns that spy planes with thermal imaging cameras used by Harrow Borough Council 'could be considered snooping'

Harrow Times: Spy planes could be considered 'snooping', group warns Spy planes could be considered 'snooping', group warns

Civil liberties campaigners have warned that using spy planes to search for illegal 'beds in sheds' developments could be seen as "over the top".

Harrow Borough Council spent around £20,000 on the aircraft to detect cannabis factories, homes without proper insulation and so-called 'beds in sheds' - garages or other outbuildings used as flats without authorisation.

Thermal images revealed 319 outbuildings could be being rented out illegally,  often to "exploited" immigrants paying reduced rent.

But some have voiced fears the authority could have used the aircraft as a means of snooping on its residents.

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Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said the council should be "fully transparent" about such exercises.

He said: "They need to make sure they do not snoop on people who are not under any suspicion of wrongdoing.

"People have no idea what information is being recorded by these spy planes or the legal framework it falls under. This needs to be urgently addressed by Harrow Council.

"People are right to wonder if this is a very over the top response that will lead to people who have done nothing wrong being mistakenly targeted."

Independent councillor Husain Akthar said: "We don’t want any unwanted characters in Harrow, but we need to look at the best way to approach this.

"Peering into homes could be crossing the boundaries of interfering with privacy. They should do all they can to crackdown on beds in sheds, but I wonder if this is a sneaky response."

Despite this, in a Harrow Times poll, 76 per cent of people supported the use of the planes. Another 19 per cent disagreed, and 5 per cent said they did not know.

Slough, in Berkshire, used the same technology in 2013 to find possible illegal housing.

Before the operation, planning officers estimated there were 75 cases of unauthorised 'beds in sheds' in Harrow - a quarter of the suspected cases uncovered by the plane.

Officials will now visit the properties identified and will compare the images with other records to establish if there are more.

And Tory council leader Susan Hall insisted the plane was an "information seeking" device.

She added: "It’s absolute rubbish to call it a spy plane. It has given us incredible information and has been very useful.

"As well as detecting beds in sheds and people being exploited, we have been able to help many elderly people who do not have proper insulation in their homes, and stop cannabis factories."

She pointed out the "hidden community" living in illegal flats drew on services for which the council received no extra funding, and were themselves at the bottowm of a "pyramid of exploitation".

She added: "They can say what they like, but this has been nothing but a good thing for our taxpaying residents."

Comments (5)

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1:12pm Wed 5 Mar 14

SeaBee says...

Mr Pickles. it's a Health and Safety issue and as you know that trumps everything. For the avoidance of doubt, I believe the use of spies in the sky to be an excellent idea, identifying sub-standard accommodation and cannabis farms. Both are potentially death traps.
Mr Pickles. it's a Health and Safety issue and as you know that trumps everything. For the avoidance of doubt, I believe the use of spies in the sky to be an excellent idea, identifying sub-standard accommodation and cannabis farms. Both are potentially death traps. SeaBee
  • Score: 7

2:58pm Wed 5 Mar 14

jackdaw says...

What about the civil liberties of the council tax payers? The cannabis factories are engaged in criminal activities that impact on the law abiding residents of the borough. Residents have the right not to have illegal cannabis factories as their neighbours.

Also why should law abiding citizens subsidise landlords raking in money from the beds in sheds/ houses of multi occupation scams. We could end up subsidiising the millionaire lottery winner who is coining it from his beds in sheds properties.

If he is so keen on civil ibertues for these miscreants perhaps Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother, should consider donating the shortfall of funds to Harrow borough. Allow him his soppy principles if he puts his money where his mouth is .

Why is he not protesting in the Ukraine where there is a real crisis? Perhaps he shoild allow a cannabis factory or beds in shed outbuilding to be put either side of his place of residence if he is so worried about their human rights.!

If residents are not doing anything wrong they will have nothing to worry about.
What about the civil liberties of the council tax payers? The cannabis factories are engaged in criminal activities that impact on the law abiding residents of the borough. Residents have the right not to have illegal cannabis factories as their neighbours. Also why should law abiding citizens subsidise landlords raking in money from the beds in sheds/ houses of multi occupation scams. We could end up subsidiising the millionaire lottery winner who is coining it from his beds in sheds properties. If he is so keen on civil ibertues for these miscreants perhaps Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother, should consider donating the shortfall of funds to Harrow borough. Allow him his soppy principles if he puts his money where his mouth is . Why is he not protesting in the Ukraine where there is a real crisis? Perhaps he shoild allow a cannabis factory or beds in shed outbuilding to be put either side of his place of residence if he is so worried about their human rights.! If residents are not doing anything wrong they will have nothing to worry about. jackdaw
  • Score: 7

9:07am Thu 6 Mar 14

rabbitz says...

I don't think any law abiding person has any reason to worry about a plane flying overhead with thermal imaging equipment now on the other hand if you are sub letting the potting shed to illegal or legal migrants while you pay them a paltry wage for working for you then tough cheese my friend the game is up.
I don't think any law abiding person has any reason to worry about a plane flying overhead with thermal imaging equipment now on the other hand if you are sub letting the potting shed to illegal or legal migrants while you pay them a paltry wage for working for you then tough cheese my friend the game is up. rabbitz
  • Score: 6

11:32am Thu 6 Mar 14

jackdaw says...

Cannabis factories in residential properties are often booby trapped in order to injure the police and council officers who carry out the raids. The police and council officers have an absolute right to gather as much information about premises before they are raided because of health and safety issues.
If the so called spy planes help bring down crime, and help Borough Commander Simon Ovens fulfill his ambition to make Harrow the safest London borough, I would say Susan Hall and the Council have spent the money wisely.
Cannabis factories in residential properties are often booby trapped in order to injure the police and council officers who carry out the raids. The police and council officers have an absolute right to gather as much information about premises before they are raided because of health and safety issues. If the so called spy planes help bring down crime, and help Borough Commander Simon Ovens fulfill his ambition to make Harrow the safest London borough, I would say Susan Hall and the Council have spent the money wisely. jackdaw
  • Score: 7

3:14am Fri 7 Mar 14

Sonoo Malkani says...

I heartily agree with Jackdaw's comments especially the last paragraph.It's great to see how many back this form of intelligence gathering which is being inappropriately dubbed "spying"by those who refuse to accept dramatic changes in the real world.Wake up and smell the coffee!!We must fight fire with fire and be seen to be controlling Law & Order,not ****-footing around law-breakers.

Since criminals/wrongdoers keep moving the goal-posts ,we the ordinary citizens are duty bound to stand solidly behind our Police and Council officers and allow them to make these" nasties" feel the full force of the Law.You have nothing to fear if you are an upright,honourable citizen.

They are policing with OUR consent, for OUR benefit.These are not "doctored" performance figures but extremely heartening results.For many years,we have been pestering the top brass at New Scotland Yard to pull out all the stops and encourage our local Borough Commanders to use tactics exactly like these which bring quick,instant results.

"Everything is fair in Love and War"---well,we the public have declared WAR ON CRIMINALS and have joined hands with the authorities to throw the book at these crooks.Wish we could afford a fleet of these so called "spy planes" and pick off car thieves ,burglars and many,many more.The list is exhaustive.

We all want to safeguard our hard-won Civil liberties but have to balance that against our CIVIL RESPONSIBILITIES.Let us unashamedly applaud the good work being conducted by the Borough Commander and his team along with supportive partners.We are quick to criticise the Metropolitan Police and our local Council.Let's give credit where credit is due.

Here's to Harrow becoming the safest London Borough in due course.Wonderful goal to work towards and one we have achieved before.Excellent use of tax-payers monies.Nip crime in the bud.Encore!
I heartily agree with Jackdaw's comments especially the last paragraph.It's great to see how many back this form of intelligence gathering which is being inappropriately dubbed "spying"by those who refuse to accept dramatic changes in the real world.Wake up and smell the coffee!!We must fight fire with fire and be seen to be controlling Law & Order,not ****-footing around law-breakers. Since criminals/wrongdoers keep moving the goal-posts ,we the ordinary citizens are duty bound to stand solidly behind our Police and Council officers and allow them to make these" nasties" feel the full force of the Law.You have nothing to fear if you are an upright,honourable citizen. They are policing with OUR consent, for OUR benefit.These are not "doctored" performance figures but extremely heartening results.For many years,we have been pestering the top brass at New Scotland Yard to pull out all the stops and encourage our local Borough Commanders to use tactics exactly like these which bring quick,instant results. "Everything is fair in Love and War"---well,we the public have declared WAR ON CRIMINALS and have joined hands with the authorities to throw the book at these crooks.Wish we could afford a fleet of these so called "spy planes" and pick off car thieves ,burglars and many,many more.The list is exhaustive. We all want to safeguard our hard-won Civil liberties but have to balance that against our CIVIL RESPONSIBILITIES.Let us unashamedly applaud the good work being conducted by the Borough Commander and his team along with supportive partners.We are quick to criticise the Metropolitan Police and our local Council.Let's give credit where credit is due. Here's to Harrow becoming the safest London Borough in due course.Wonderful goal to work towards and one we have achieved before.Excellent use of tax-payers monies.Nip crime in the bud.Encore! Sonoo Malkani
  • Score: 2

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