|The Guardian covers the report on the controversial surveillance cameras installed by Birmingham City Council in predominantly Muslim areas of the city stating that “a secret police operation to place thousands of Muslims living in Birmingham under permanent surveillance was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law."|
“Project Champion was abandoned in June after an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing that hundreds of counter-terrorism cameras installed in streets around Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.”
“In fact, the £3m project was being run from the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit with the consent of security officials at the Home Office and MI5.”
200 cameras were placed at 81 sites, forming a “ring of steel” around the predominantly Muslim suburbs.
Following threats of legal action by lawyers from Liberty if the cameras were activated, condemnation from the likes of John Hemming MP and Roger Godsiff MP, who tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament against the scheme, the Council was forced to rethink its decision and review the human rights implications of Project Champion.
The findings of the report by Sara Thornton, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, reveals how the police had devised a “storyline” to conceal the true purpose of the cameras by removing the counter terrorism insignia from the paperwork “as part of a deliberate strategy to ‘market’ the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme to improve community safety”. Local councillors too were reportedly misled of the intention behind installing the cameras.
Among the other findings presented are:
“Top police officers failed to ask questions about the operation's ‘proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action."
“Officers failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or conduct proper consultation. They did not obtain statutory clearance for the use of covert cameras and, Thornton said, there was ‘very little evidence’ that police had even considered their legal obligations.”
"Senior officers were aware of the dangers. 'We are not going to install 150 plus cameras without questions being asked,’ the officers noted” and yet the project went ahead, despite knowing its implications.
The Guardian also reports that there have been no resignations or any disciplinary action taken over the damning indictment of Project Champion, in which the appropriate checks and balances were seemingly bypassed. This is deeply worrying. If the police misled authorities and undertook a counter-terrorism surveillance operation against Muslims in Birmingham with no regard for the infringement of their civil liberties, only acknowledging fault when threatened with legal action by human rights group Liberty and when challenged by the local MP, why have those that were responsible for devising and implementing the project not been held to account? Furthermore, what safeguards will now be put in place to ensure that similar things do not happen again?
West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims has said that he is “deeply sorry” that his force got this “so wrong”. No doubt Muslims in Birmingham will be looking for rather more than contrition from the local police force. Assurances that lessons have been learnt and proper procedures for transparency and accountability enacted will go much further in rebuilding trust between the community and the police.
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