Bags placed over camera’s until public consultation takes place
MORE than 200 anti-terrorist surveillance cameras put up in predominantly Muslim areas in Birmingham won’t be switched on following uproar from the community.
The spy network, which consists of 169 ‘ANPR’ cameras capable of checking car registration numbers, and 49 CCTV cameras, were put up in the Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham by the Safer Birmingham Partnership.
Critics have said the cameras, some of which are hidden, are being used to spy on the Muslim community after it emerged the initiative was financed through a counter-terrorism fund.
Local councillors and representatives from the community say they were not consulted on the camera network called ‘Project Champion’.
A number of heated meetings have since taken place by angry residents and local MP Roger Godsiff tabled a Commons motion expressing his concern saying the only function of the project was to “monitor extremists that the police and MI5 suspect to be living among Birmingham’s Muslim community.”
In all the controversy forced the Safer Birmingham Partnership into a grovelling apology in which they said they would place plastic bags over the camera’s until a “full and in-depth public consultation” into the implementation of the camera network had taken place.
In a joint statement Assistant Chief Constable Suzette Davenport of West Midlands Police, Cllr Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council and Jackie Russell, Director of Safer Birmingham Partnership apologised for mistakes they said had “undermined public confidence in the Police and the Council.”
“A number of issues have been raised in relation to Project Champion and we believe it is right to give local people a chance to express their views,” the statement said.
“We completely accept that earlier consultation with councillors from Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath – the main focus of the project – should also have included elected representatives from all other areas affected.
“We also accept that we should have been more explicit about the role of the Counter Terrorism Unit in the initial project management of Champion.”
The statement continued: “Although the Counter Terrorism Unit was responsible for identifying and securing central government funds, and have overseen the technical aspects of the installation, the camera sites were chosen on the basis of general crime data – not just counter terrorism intelligence.
“Day to day management of the network was always intended to become the responsibility of local police.
“We apologise for these mistakes, which regrettably may have undermined public confidence in the Police and the Council.
“Public safety is a primary concern and, having seen the benefits that existing ANPR and CCTV networks have brought to other areas of Birmingham, we remain confident that the inclusion of these new sites will further reduce crime and anti-social behaviour at all levels.”
But despite the apology Salma Yaqoob, leader of the Respect party and councillor for Sparkbrook, said more had to be done.
“In terms of reassurance it’s going to take a lot more than plastic bags,” she told the BBC. “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.”