Plastic bags to be put over Birmingham 'terror cameras'

Street scene showing the surveillance cameras

A consultation will be held over the use of the cameras

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A surveillance operation in parts of Birmingham with large Muslim populations has been halted after it was revealed the move was linked to counter terrorism.

Some out of 218 cameras, mainly in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook districts, will be covered with bags.

They were part of the Project Champion scheme, paid for from a Home Office counter terrorism fund.

But officials behind the project said it would have deterred various crimes.

Steve Jolly, one of those who first began campaigning about the cameras, said people had been "misled".

He said: "Now the truth is out, there's a lot of anger.

"Certain communities have been ring-fenced and saturated with cameras, making it impossible for you to get in or out without being tracked.

"What's happening here is the government is spying on its citizens covertly in some cases, without their knowledge or consent, and it's a gross invasion of privacy and civil liberties."

Ayoub Khan, from the council, said the public's views were "important"

Mr Jolly described the latest developments as "a victory" and "a start" but added: "It's not the conclusion, though.

"The cameras are already in now. There's going to be a lot of reluctance to have them taken away."

A total of 218 cameras - some of them hidden - were put up in various locations across the areas.

Of those, 106 were Automatic Number Plate Recognition devices which were able to record car registrations as they moved around the areas.

In a statement in April, the Safer Birmingham Project (SBP) said it had received £3m from the Home Office to improve community safety and reduce crime in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook wards.

However, it has since emerged the cash had come through the Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) fund, which is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo).

The SBP - a partnership of the police, the city council and other agencies - said on Thursday: "Although the counter-terrorism unit was responsible for identifying and securing central government funds and has overseen the technical aspects of the installation, the camera sites were chosen on the basis of general crime data - not just counter-terrorism intelligence."

SBP said a number of concerns had been raised and it wanted to give people the right to express their views.

Respect Party councillor Salma Yaqoob said people had lost faith in the authorities.

She said: "In terms of reassurance it's going to take a lot more than plastic bags.

Start Quote

If that's what the police have now decided to do, I applaud them for doing so”

End Quote Roger Godsiff MP

"The residents have lost faith with the authorities for their sneaky handling of the way they went about this and will not be reassured until they have been told the locations of the hidden cameras too."

The partnership said it would not be placing bags on the 72 hidden cameras because it does not want to reveal their location.

But it added none of the cameras would be used until the public have been fully consulted.

Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Hall Green, said: "I put down an early day motion in the House of Commons expressing my concern about the way it had been handled and saying that there should be proper public consultation before the cameras are activated.

"If that's what the police have now decided to do, I applaud them for doing so."

Ayoub Khan, Birmingham City Council's community safety portfolio holder, said a detailed consultation ought to have taken place before the cameras were installed.

'Attack anti-social behaviour'

He said the partnership was now reviewing why this had not happened.

The camera idea was first proposed by Home Office counter-terrorism officers in April 2009, Mr Khan said.

"I was informed that this was to attack anti-social behaviour and various other criminal behaviour with a bolt-on of some terrorism activity detecting too."

Mr Khan said because of the way it had been presented the idea received the support of many councillors, but explained that he had no idea that so many cameras would be installed in only a few Birmingham wards or that they would be "circling in" the community living there.

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