Council used 'spying' powers in bid to catch thief

Stoke on Trent City Councils Civic Centre
Stoke on Trent City Council's Civic Centre -Credit:Copyright Unknown

A council has made use of 'spying' powers three times over the last two years, a report reveals. Stoke-on-Trent City Council carried out directed surveillance twice in 2022, and on a further occasion in 2023.

The authority is allowed to use the powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The first two RIPA authorisations related to the sale of counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and tobacco in Stoke-on-Trent, while the third related to theft of council property.

Cabinet members are now set to update the authority's policy on the use of RIPA powers. Local authorities are only allowed to grant authorisation for directed surveillance or use of a 'covert human intelligence source' in certain situations. This can include the prevention or detection of crime where an offence may be punishable by a custodial sentence of six months or more.

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Stoke-on-Trent City Council was inspected by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office in August 2022, and according to the report to cabinet, the authority's RIPA policy was found to be a 'very clear and comprehensive document'. But the inspector also suggested making some improvements, such as including references to appropriate sections of the codes of practice.

These changes, among others, are now set to be incorporated into the updated RIPA policy.

The report to cabinet states: "Whilst the council has surveillance powers available to use under RIPA and has to have procedures in place, the council doesn’t use these powers regularly and uses the RIPA policy in exceptional circumstances where there is a clear legal mandate and it is in the public interest to do so.

"The application of the policy and its regular review mitigates risk for the council. Additionally the regular review of policies and use ensures that these powers are being used proportionally and in the public interest."

Cabinet members will rubberstamp the changes to the RIPA policy when they meet on Tuesday.

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