County Council Defends Itself After Admitting It Spied On Paper Boys

PUBLISHED: 14:04 16 December 2008 | UPDATED: 10:38 04 May 2010

A COUNCIL which used controversial anti-terror laws to spy on paperboys has defended its actions. Cambridgeshire County Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to catch teenagers working illegally at a newsagent. The council s deputy leade

A COUNCIL which used controversial anti-terror laws to spy on paperboys has defended its actions.

Cambridgeshire County Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to catch teenagers working illegally at a newsagent.

The council's deputy leader, Mac McGuire, issued a statement after the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced in Parliament that town hall powers to use the legislation should be limited. However, Cllr McGuire also said that he would be carrying out a review into the council's use of RIPA.

CCC used RIPA to gather evidence against Dips and Rashmi Solanki, who run a shop in Melbourn.

A Cambridgeshire bylaw states that all paperboys must have a work permit issued by the council and signed by the child's employer, head teacher and parents. Working children must also be over 13 and cannot start work until after 7am.

Cambridge Magistrates' Court was told last week that the Solankis' had failed to get the correct work permits for five paperboys.

They were found guilty of failing to comply with the bylaw and were given a six-month conditional discharge - meaning they each now have a criminal record.

All the boys concerned were aged between 13 and 16. Other than not having the correct paperwork, they were working legally.

The story attracted national medial and political attention and the council was condemned by many, including MPs and the Taxpayers' Alliance, for "using a hammer to crack a nut".

Cllr McGuire said: "Cambridgeshire County Council took court action only as a last resort, after the shopkeepers had repeatedly ignored all our efforts to help them comply with the law. In order to provide the court with admissible evidence, we had to use RIPA.

"We have a statutory duty to regulate child employment and we take that responsibility very seriously.

"RIPA is not used frequently by the council, and even then only when absolutely necessary. For example, it is occasionally used in Trading Standards investigations.

"However, I announced last week that I would be carrying out a review of the way the authority uses RIPA, and will be looking at the role of Cabinet in approving its use."

The Act was introduced in 2000 and as well as allowing spying in the interests of national security, it also allows public bodies such as councils, NHS trusts and the fire service to act secretly in the interests of "protecting public health".

Ms Smith defended councils' rights to use their powers against suspected rogue traders and fly-tippers but said the law should not be used to snoop on people suspected of minor offences.

She said: "I don't want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy."

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Contact the Ely Standard, 38 Market Street, Ely, CB7 4LS or email editor@ely-standard.co.uk

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