Mother challenges council over spying powers

Author: By Tom Morgan, Press Association

The council was accused of playing “fast and loose” in its attempts to
establish whether Jenny Paton’s children lived in the correct school
catchment area.

Her complaint surrounds the use of the controversial Regulation of
Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

Speaking before a landmark two-day Investigatory Powers Tribunal hearing in
central London, Ms Paton, 40, said: “Some of the operational aspects are
ludicrous and completely outrageous and, I think, we all need protecting
from the way local authorities are using Ripa. This is about saying ‘no
more’ – let’s have more safeguards and better scrutiny.”

James Welch, a lawyer from Liberty which is representing Ms Paton, said: “We
are asking this tribunal to declare that the surveillance powers used to
watch Ms Paton were unlawful. This is not about the money – it’s about the
legal principle.”

It is alleged a council official made notes documenting the comings and goings
of the mother-of-three and her partner, Tim Joyce, for nearly three weeks to
find out if the family lived at an address in the catchment area for
Lilliput First School.

Ms Paton questioned why officials did not simply knock on the door and speak
to her if they doubted her story.

Ripa, dubbed a “snooper’s charter”, is used to monitor relatively trivial
offences by some local councils.

The hearing comes as it was learned that Ripa – introduced in 2000 to give the
police, security services and Revenue and Customs the powers to spy on
people in the fight against crime and terrorism – will be used to track down
parents who refuse to pay child support.

Investigators will be given access to the phone and internet records of
thousands of fathers who lie about their wealth or refuse to co-operate with
the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.

School admissions are a dinner party hot topic of conversation along with
property prices, Gordon Nardell, representing the family, told the hearing’s
judging panel.

Mr Nardell said: “The complainants have and were found to have played by the
rules but this local authority played fast and loose.”

He told the hearing her family could had been proven to have been living in
the right area by other means than spying.

He added: “It’s a hot topic at the moment. School admissions are second only
or joint first with property prices in pubs and around dinner tables in the

He said the case was about “liberty” and the “extraordinary powers” of local

The family was watched 21 times over three weeks around February last year,
the hearing was told.

Mr Nardell said it was “quite extraordinary” the surveillance was authorised.

After revealing how family members were reported as being watched in a log, he
added: “It speaks for itself in terms of its extent.”

Investigators were watching “comings and goings” from the family’s home
address and following a car, he said.

Mr Nardell added: “There is plainly an interference with home life.”

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