Has snoopers’ charter been watching you in Bedfordshire?

Brian Spurr

Brian Spurr - Credit: Archant

Central Beds Council has employed a controversial government act to spy on people, a freedom of information request has sensationally revealed.

The body used legislation from the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to secretly compile dossiers on people suspected of illegal activities – which the Comet understands can involve the use of private detectives, hidden cameras and listening devices.

Between 2011 and 2016, five applications were made to gather information and conduct secret surveillance against individuals suspected of breaking the law.

The undercover surveillance activities targeting people in Bedfordshire lasted from a matter of hours to an astonishing 42 days in one case.

The council has used RIPA nine times since 2012 – including investigations into suspected housing benefit fraud, the selling of fake of designer goods and the avoidance of payment of customs and excise duty and an unlicensed taxi firm.

Other cases involved suspected fraud in relation to a disabled facilities grant or other money or benefits received through fraudulent means as well as fly-tipping.

But only one instance of the snooping brought about a successful prosecution.

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Martin Perkes of Oxley Cottages, Haynes, was found guilty in 2013 of three offences of illegally running a commercial activity while running Martin’s Minibuses – a private hire taxi company transporting adults with learning difficulties, and school children.

The investigation was carried out by CBC’s Trading Standards and Financial Investigation team after complaints from other taxi drivers and firms.

With the use of RIPA they uncovered Perkes’ hired friends to drive his taxis, knowing they weren’t insured or licensed – with Perkes ordered to pay back £16,391.57, £1,800 in costs and a £1,000 fine.

A council spokesman said: “We have used RIPA nine times over the past five years – all were cases where criminal activity was suspected.”

Councillor Brian Spurr said at the time: “This was a complex and detailed investigation which resulted in illegal taxis being taken off our roads.”

The use of RIPA was not disclosed.