back to article Council's school-snoop-op ruled illegal

Local officials who subjected a Dorset family to covert surveillance to find out if they had lied to get their youngest child into an outstanding primary school acted illegally, a landmark ruling said today. Poole Borough Council's spying on Jenny Paton, her partner Tim Joyce, and their three daughters was "not proportionate …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward

    We're Sorry?

    Is that it? Is that really all the council did?

    "We're sorry for spying on you" , "We're sorry for breaching your human rights"

    All of their actions were based on one single phone call? Three weeks of covert surveillance based on one single phone call?

    Are Poole going to be twinning themselves with Beijing any time soon?

    1. lglethal Silver badge


      The full statement was "We're sorry... we we're caught. We will take more care next time... not to be caught".

      Whoever authorised this should be placed in stocks in the town square for everyone to throw rotten vegetables at. Bring back the good ol' punishments i say!

    2. Tom 35


      And how much money did they waste in the three weeks?

      Was this the only time they did this?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And what will the punishment be for this illegal invasion of privacy?

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      Re: and

      We can deduce the punishment solely from the statements in the article. Especially the part where the council accepted the judgement with no appeal.

      So, my dear Watson, it would seem that the punishment is ten percent of fuck all.

      Par for the course, and all that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        yes that's how it looks, but I was hoping my reading of the situation was incorrect.

        Silly I know.

        1. Mark 65

          Next stage...

          Now that a criminal judgement has been handed down can the family not successfully sue for invasion of privacy, harassment or some other such civil infringement that might make the pricks think twice? Knowing how local Government thinks it's above the law I know I certainly would as you can guarantee the people responsible will not be punished by internal procedures (workplace not bodily) as a result because they think they were right all along and just had a bad day in court.

    2. Stevie Silver badge


      More to the point, what will the punishment be for the accusers, who are clearly revealed here to be indulging in bizarre and malicious bearing of false witness.

      My guess is that the source of these allegations was allowed to remain anonymous.

      If that is so, perhaps if Poole council were to insist that complaints be accepted only from those who identify themselves repeats of this disgraceful nonsense could be avoided.

  3. irish donkey
    Big Brother

    Did they get the school place?

    And if so were they allowed to keep it?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Andrew Norton

    intrusive surveilance, vital?

    "Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said: "Intrusive surveillance is vital to fighting terrorism and serious crime but weak legal protections and petty abuses of power bring it into disrepute."

    Can I call crap on this? Intrusive surveillance isn't vital at all for fighting terrorism. All it is, is abuse of power. I think Liberty might want to fire Corinna, and get someone who understands what they're talking about.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      @ Andrew Norton

      >>>>Can I call crap on this? Intrusive surveillance isn't vital at all for fighting terrorism. All it is, is abuse of power.


      You know those guys who were convicted of planing to plant bombs on aeroplanes? Do you think the world would be a better place if:

      A. We'd not used intrusive covert surveillance and a thousand or so people were dead, or;

      B. We had used intrusiver covert surveillance and a thousand or so people weren't dead?

      There's been plenty of abuse of power over the years. But surveillance has also been used for the right reasons, in the right cases.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What guys?

        Those with the shedful of peroxide planning to make TATP on board?

        The dangers in that, my dear Watson, are primarily risks to the shed, and secondary, minor risk of burns trying to make the TATP. It requires at least four hours and constant chilling, you see, for the reaction is exothermic and will overheat when left to its own devices. A soft whoomp and some burns for the operator isn't enough to blow up the toilet, nevermind the entire aeroplane.

        While it is remotely possible (as mr. Lewis claims) that paranoid boffins found a viable binary liquid bomb scheme, it certainly wasn't one any wannabe terrorist knew about, and had they known they'd still be more liable to neutralise themselves due to glaring lack of basic chemistry skill and knowledge.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: What guys?

          But as it turned out they were not doing that, do try and keep up.

          They were using TATP in small quantities as a detonator, but that was to be made beforehand and disguised (in batteries I believe) rather than cooked up on board (which is indeed highly implausible).

          The actual explosive was Peroxide and Tang, which *can* be easily and stably mixed on board. This also explains why a mate who works in Aviation security was extremely dismissive of the internet hoohah over the impossibility of it working. He'd been to a demo of what they were looking at, which produced a very impressive explosion without anyone handling anything with any degree of care, bar the detonator.

          See here, where Lewis explains the facts as they transpired and goes so far as to state that it was indeed a viable strategy:

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Now we need a chemist

            That article mentions H2O2, tang, and HMTD as the detonator, not TATP. Wikipedia mentions you need H2O2, hexamine, and a catalyst like citric acid (of which lots in tang powder). So, if true, the story leaves out hexamine. I recall reading the article and not being convinced, now I know why. About TATP I recall reading a far-too-technical-for-me paper which detailed the four hour thing. I haven't seen any such about HMTD, and I don't see that without hexamine it'll still go boom; not enough nitrogen containing groups. As noted, not a chemist, so this is mostly half-informed guesswork. But at least I now know what it'd take to convince me.

            Besides, I'd seen an article on next-gen scanners some score years ago that used colour screens to flag a variety of things including high-N substances. Thought they'd already deployed those like at least a decade ago, which would neatly remove the need for perving scanners and bans on containers full of that high explosive product, DHMO.

            As a sidenote: No, I don't care that it's hardly the most important freedom lost. It's yet another insult, chafing. Go ahead, ban a bit more. As far as I'm concerned, those taking away my freedoms are not my friends and cannot be trusted with my safety.

      2. TimeMaster T


        When used for the right reasons and in the right cases, with warrants duly issued by the proper authorities and with proper oversight, I agree with you.

        In the case you cite the above provisions were followed, and the thousands who have died to ensure that those protections are in place were honored.

        Those who truly value their Freedom are willing to accept that they may die as a result of action by an enemy abusing those same Freedoms.

        I don't know about you but I consider it better to be secure in my home and communications than have to constantly worry about saying the wrong thing on the phone or talking to the wrong person lest I be called a "Terrorist" by association.

        I may have nothing to fear, but I, as we all, have things I would prefer to keep hidden.

  5. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge

    Have I got this right?

    The family was suspected of lying to get their kid into a "an outstanding primary school", so the local authority used badly-drafted, heavy-handed anti-terrorist measures to try and catch them out.

    That really sums up the last thirteen years in so many ways.

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Have I got this right?

      No you missed a bit.

      The family was suspected of lying to get their kid into a "an outstanding primary school", so the local authority used badly-drafted, heavy-handed anti-terrorist measures to try and catch them out.

      The same laws that the then Home Office Minister stated in Parliament would not be used for this purpose.

      Fail Icon for the last Government for Passing this law in the first place. And for the current one for being too scared of the Daily Wail to oppose it properly while in Opposition.

      1. Daniel 1

        I'll add a bit, too, if I may

        Apparently, the correct response, from a local authority - when faced with the possibility that one of their schools (a PRIMARY school), is so nice, that parents might lie about where they lived, in order to get their kids into it - is not to think "Oh, how nice: let's see what they're doing right, at that primary school, and see if we can emulate that, in the teaching of other 4 to 11 yearolds, throughout the district." but instead, to launch a surveillance campaign against the parents.

        They should maybe just bomb the primary school and shout "There! You won't want to send your kids there, now, will you - you lying, cheating bastards!"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    So where's all the "If you've got nothing to hide " cretins?

    I bet we'll find them suspiciously silent on this thread.

    As for RIPA, the kiddies have proven they can't play with it sensibly so it should be taken from them.

  7. KevinLewis

    Council Bill

    Do they get their Council Bill refunded as well?

    Surely the idiot who abused these powers be faced with criminal charges?

  8. Someone Else Silver badge

    Ministers, eh?

    "Former Ministers claimed that the innocent had nothing to fear [...]"

    Former Ministers have been know to lie....

    1. TimeMaster T


      So have acting Ministers ...

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Illegal is Illegal

    Yet again it's one rule for them and another for the rest of us..

    average person breaks the law -> result = fine/imprisonment and unable to pass a CRB/get a job for the rest of your life

    local authority/government/police officer/etc breaks the law (RIPA/other powers abuse, Execution by several bullets to the head, beaten to the ground and die) -> result = pathetic apology (if you are lucky)

    1. John G Imrie
      Black Helicopters

      You missed a bit.

      The offending local authority/government/police officer/etc gets a promotion / honour / peerage / etc

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Don't forget

        The all encompassing "Word's of advice"

        1. Clarissa


          ... the other favourite: "Lessons will be learnt".

      2. TeeCee Gold badge

        *You* missed a bit.

        Alternatively, they could throw 'em to the wolves and go for the most serious punishment available. Early retirement on full pension.....

  10. MinionZero

    So how many more...

    @"The covert operation was authorised by officials under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and ony disclosed to Paton by accident."

    ... so how many more covert operations have occured that have not been disclosed by accident.

  11. Terry H

    No Punishment EVER

    "The Government" whomever "they" are, are never, not ever, no I really mean it, not previously, not now, nor will be until the end of time, held accountable for their actions. The only exceptions I have seen are the losers in a war - most notably the French Revolution. OK, they really did go a bit too far, but you have to admire their dedication. And it was sort of the "not accountable" part that caused the whole mess to begin with wasn't it?

    Every single "power" should have a SEVERE prison sentence associated for misuse. And by the way, just following orders didn't work in Nuremberg for people who could reasonably expect to be killed on the spot for failure to comply, it sure as hell shouldn't be an excuse for some wanker in the local council (or the FBI).

    Why do Afghan terrorists have more rights that UK and US citizens?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Ruled illegal

    Surely now they can bring a civil prosecution for compensation and possibly punative damages against the organisation.

    Which sucks a bit because it doesn't actually affect the individual who approved the covert operation or the senior officers of the council.

    It really shows how messed up this country is.

  13. Graham Bartlett


    The interesting part is that since the council has been found to have acted illegally, the family have the option of reporting it to the police, who are then obliged to pass it to the CPS. Be interesting to see if the family go this way, and then to see what the CPS do with it...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      ...about the same as when a policeman hits a woman across the face and legs and gets away with it or when a policeman pushes a man over (at the very least assault) who then subsequently dies gets away with it.

      CPS - (selectively) incompetent bunch of twats.

    2. Graham Marsden

      "see what the CPS do with it..."

      The CPS will sit on it for a while and then decide that there is "Insufficient evidence" to bring a case...

  14. Dr. Ellen

    Nobody's innocent!

    The way the law goes in the US, everybody is committing felonies all the time; there are so many laws, covering so many things, that if anybody with power wants to get you, they will. How I wish this were paranoia!

    1. TimeMaster T


      On that subject. I read an article once, sorry no link available, that stated that the total number of Federal laws in the USA was "over 10,000", an exact number being impossible to determine because many laws will reference other laws or treaties.

      Then add in State, County and City laws/regulations and it becomes almost impossible to NOT be guilty of something.

      I have noticed a trend lately, 20 years ago when a Police officer walked into a cafe people would smile, maybe node a welcome to them, the conversation would get a little louder as people relaxed. Because they felt safer with an Officer around.

      Now when an Officer walks in the conversation gets a little softer, people smile a little less and people's body language shows a bit of unease.

      Ask someone what worries them more, an Arab getting on the plane with them or the police car that pulls in behind them at the light?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Sounds suspiciously like Christianity

      Maybe America isn't as secular as they claim.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    What about the person(s) who lied to the council in the first place?

    As much as the council were heavy handed and stupid in there knowingly illegal use of surveillance on this family what will happen the mischievous folks who were intent on causing trouble by grassing them up? Are these folks their accusers?

    Why did the council turn to these methods before any others?

    There is a PhD thesis in here somewhere.

    An then there is all the compensations to be litigated for....

    1. Jacqui

      @What about the person(s) who lied to the council in the first place?

      Its obvious - some uppity council trogs kids got a rejection letter and they decided to hunt for some folks to remove so their kids could get the vacated place.

      I suspect there were many many kiddies followed by gumshoes and the council bod was just waiting fro one of them to catch someone out.

      And yes this has happened to us - Br**kn*ll forced my partner out of his flat - he had stripped it and was redecorating - they broke in and decided he no longer lived there and took the flat back - yes he was paying rent etc. Guess who moved in a week later? - the daughter of a local MP!

  16. Pete B

    Personal liability

    I'd like to see her sue the individuals responsible for authorising this. That's about the only way to bring home resposibility where it lies. 'The Council' didn't make this decision - somebody within it personally decided this was a reasonable process to follow, so should be held personally liable.

  17. Just Thinking


    Why the hell do local authorities have these powers?

    If a situation is serious enough to genuinely justify covert surveillance, surely somebody other than the local bloody council should be dealing with it?

    Which means that any use of these powers by an LA has to be abuse pretty much by definition.

    Unless, of course, some town clerk who has watched one too many Bruce Willis movies happens on a terrorist plot and decides to sort them out by himself...

  18. Eddy Ito

    Not exactly

    "petty abuses of power bring it into disrepute"

    It's also trying to hide the petty abuses that bring all of gubbermint into disrepute.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Carry on government.

  20. JaitcH

    The real name for this council action is STALKING

    Once upon a time, before B & B (Blair and Brown) a man's home was his castle. No more, though.

    All involved in this abuse should be fired and any damages awarded should be paid from their pockets and not those of taxpayers.

  21. EvilGav 1

    Never understood . . .

    . . . how this went as far as it did.

    Surely it's as simple as "are this family paying council tax in the right area ?" yes or no.

    If they are paying council tax (so, the council are being paid for the schooling), in the right area, what the hell was this all about ??

    1. Just Thinking

      Not necessarilly

      To get into a school you need to be living in the area between the application date and the start of term - a few months.

      It doesn't cost that much to rent (and pay council tax) on a small flat for that period, while still living in your real house. It means that you get your kid into a good state school at a fraction of the cost of going private. That bit of council tax doesn't pay for the schooling.

      Meanwhile some other kid has their place stolen and probably gets offered a place in a school which is miles away. The council need to make checks, but they don't need to invoke terror laws to do it.

      For most of us who just want our kids to go to a reasonable, local school, a good Ofsted report is an absolute curse.

  22. Valerion

    Tit for tat

    Take a couple of weeks off work and stalk, follow and otherwise spy on the council boss and his family. Film them and take pictures. When challenged state that you are gathering evidence to prove that they are involved in illegal activity (namely the harassing of innocent people).

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Aren't councillors responsible for it's officials

    Surely if councillors knew of this then any costs and damages paid should be paid for by the elected representatives. Don't know, but there is some legislation somewhere and also the Malfiance in public office????????

  24. Head

    Dear Poole "shitty" Council

    I am so ashamed to have worked for you.

    You opened my eyes to see just how bad shire/city/local councils have become.

    For weeks i toiled in your pitiful excuse for an IT department, telling other department heads they had to pay 170 fucking pounds to restore a .doc from a backup tape. I felt violated when i was put on your 'ethics and you' course, even though i fell asleep for most of it.

    Your standards are atrocious. the equipment you buy is worse than sub-standard. Your policies are illegal and you have no respect at all.

    People only do business with you, as in, pay fines, to avoid being fined again.

    If aspirations could be personified, the aspirations you have are a BUCKET OF SHIT.

    Now GTFO!!

    (Btw, the "mayor" drives a Ford Falcon BA Mk 1 model, stretched. It is black.

  25. Fred 4


    @ Dr Ellen and Timemaster :

    "A corrupt society has many laws."

    - Tacitus, Roman Senator

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021