Poking Big Brother in the eye. (Or ‘How I turned the tables on an illegally parked council CCTV spy van.’)

I have moaned a lot about those spy cars and vans that patrol our streets, filming us in those brief moments when we’re not being filmed by omnipresent static CCTV cameras. I have even written about them here on Lib Dem Voice.

What annoys me in particular is the number of times I have seen them seeming to break the rules they are there to enforce. Take this example from southwest London, highlighted for me by Jason Hunter. These people are exercising power over us, filming us as we go peacefully about our everyday lives. I don’t like at all the idea that they might feel themselves to be above the law.

It may to some sound petty, but to me this is important. What I am driving at was summed up recently by Norman Baker in this vox pop interview at the Birmingham conference. Asked about the values of the Lib Dems his first instinctive answer is about ensuring the balance of power between the State and the individual is not too heavily weighted in favour of the State. Spot on.

It’s because I see this issue in this light that I was simultaneously annoyed and overjoyed when I spotted one of the vans parked in a restricted parking zone and across a cycle lane, whilst out walking the other week. I casually leaned against a nearby lamppost, whipped out my BlackBerry and shot this footage:

I gave it to the local newspaper, the Westminster Chronicle, which reported it like this. Then the BBC picked it up, and reported it like this. As you can see, there are conflicting reports about whether or not a parking ticket was issued to the driver, but either way the company contracted to operate these vehicles got a firm slap on the wrist and the driver himself cannot now drive the vans in Westminster. Good.

Now, having praised one Conservative-run council (Westminster), I will balance that out by criticising another (Plymouth). According to this report in my home city’s local newspaper, the Herald, the council believes that all cars are equal, but some are more equal than others. According to the report, it seems, the council’s vehicles are exempt from obeying the rules. Shame on them.

Personally, if I was a council leader I would be minded to scrap these horrid vehicles. They would surely be more at home in Belarus than Britain. But whilst they still patrol our streets I would encourage all good liberals to keep an eye out for them and if you see them flouting the laws everyone else is expected to follow then grab yourself some footage and publicise it. Embarrass your council into treating everyone fairly.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I’ve never seen one of these vans. Can you tell me what are they actually videoing and what for?

  • Just remember when councils complain about ‘cuts’, they haven’t been spending it on feeding the poor and helping the weak – they’ve spent billions on their repulsive Orwellian fantasies.

  • Well to be fair, Chris, traffic spy vans probably pull in more money than they cost. That doesn’t, however, make it any less repulsive.

  • Julian Block 4th Nov '11 - 1:44pm

    This just reminded me of an incident in Hastings some years ago. After getting a parking ticket when parked on yellow lines outside a council office for 5 mins to drop off my timesheet (the only way to deliver the document that got me my pay), a couple of days later I saw the Mayor’s limo outside the town hall on double yellow lines, unoccupied and doing nowt for 30 mins . I rang the police to report this lawbreaking by our most prominent citizen and was totally ignored. The limo was still parked there unticketed an hour later. The arrogance of local authorities and their collusion with the authorities of regulation is chronic.

  • Should we not enforce the law? Or are you just saying that people have to be on foot when they enforce the law?

    [On the hypocritical behaviour though, you are absolutely spot on.]

  • Graham Martin-Royle 4th Nov '11 - 7:49pm

    I agree that those who enforce the law should also obey it, high ever high you are, the law is above you. Where I live, the police still enforce (or should enforce) parking laws. What a pity that they appear to believe that, because they are enforcing the law, they are above it. What an even bigger pity that they believe that pedestrians are second class citizens and they are not interested in protecting their rights.

  • I can be looked at by strangers hundreds of times a day, but CCTV cameras are juju magic which steal my soul.

    My NI, PAYE and other records are all centrally stored, but the thought of someone watching to catch law breakers is too much.

    But, yes, the operators should obey those same laws.


  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Nov '11 - 1:28pm

    I agree that the van parked on the cycle lane is outrageous.

    On the other hand, on the rare occasions I have seen one of these “spy vans” they have usually been catching motorists using bus lanes in rush hour. I’ve tried very, very hard to think of a single bad thing about cameras being used in this way, but I can’t. I think they are fabulous.

    I am much more worried about those ubiquitous spy cars used by an American corporation (i.e. Google) than I am about my local council using the technology to catch law-breakers. I guess this must be one of the reasons I am not a Liberal.

    On a pedantic note, the example you mention in Plymouth looks ridiculous as the “road” the car is parked on does not even look like a public highway (an impression reinforced by looking at a map of the area). It looks instead like an exit from the council car park, therefore council property and not subject to laws on illegal parking on the road.

  • peter tyzack 6th Nov '11 - 5:40pm

    Saw a ‘sludge gulper’ wagon in council livery parked on the pavement (outside the pub!).. crew nowhere in sight so clearly not on the pavement for the purpose of clearing a drain. Reported it to the council, received a written apology which advised that the driver had been reprimanded and a note had also been sent out to all council drivers to remind them that they had to set an example… so it is worth reporting them.

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