Updated policy for ‘secret surveillance’ powers and previous use by Thanet council to be discussed

RIPA powers include covert surveillance

Thanet councillors will discuss an updated policy for the use of ‘spying’ powers which allow secret surveillance by the authority.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) allows covert surveillance and even informants – Covert Human Intelligence Sources – to be used to gather information for enforcement investigations. Powers under the Act are overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office (IPCO).

Thanet council’s use of the powers was inspected by the IPCO last year. Initially it was to have been a remote inspection, but the IPCO said that due to the council’s “significant previous use of RIPA powers, including a rejected application and associated non-RIPA authorisation for internal surveillance, the decision was made to conduct a physical visit.”

The inspection was delayed due to Covid but eventually carried out in March last year.

Council use of RIPA

Between 2017 and 2019, RIPA powers to authorise directed surveillance were used by Thanet council on nine occasions and a ‘non-RIPA process’ once.

Since 2020 Thanet council has not used RIPA powers.

One of the investigations was Operation Urban which focused on the conduct of the council’s own parking enforcement officers. A directed surveillance application was initially authorised on the 11th October 2017, but was rejected at the court approval stage later the same month.

A letter to then chief executive Madeline Homer from the IPCO said: “The application lacked background information, such as how the allegations had arisen, what investigative activity had been conducted so far, and a justification as to why the personnel concerned had been selected. The necessity and proportionality were equally as brief and failed to conform to the standard required by the Code.”

Similar shortcomings were identified within the ‘non-RIPA’ application, authorised in relation to the same investigation a short time later.

This document requested that statistical analysis be performed of data collected about the same civil enforcement officers, to “assess how, and if, they were performing their duties.”

IPCO says that there was very little supporting information explaining why the personnel were under investigation other than a brief description of the allegations, while the necessity and proportionality cases were insufficiently expressed to justify why the proposed tactics were the most suitable option in the circumstances of the case.

It was also noted that the scope of the investigation had been expanded to include more personnel, but no explanation was provided for this.

Covert flytipping investigation

The authority had previously used RIPA powers in December 2017 when the Streetscene team successfully obtained TDC’s first court approved RIPA authorisation to install covert directed video cameras to catch flytippers using land next to the A299 between the St Nicholas and Monkton roundabouts.

The same month former council deputy leader Lin Fairbrass confirmed on social media that an investigation concerning the parking enforcement department was taking place, although she did not provide the reason for that investigation.

Thanet council did not reveal details of the investigation at that time although a statement was issued saying: “The council has a duty to protect the public purse and, where it suspects fraudulent activity, will use all means necessary to investigate the matter and this can include applying to the court for an authorisation to carry out covert surveillance.”

The remaining RIPA investigations were all focused on the use of static observation posts to monitor fly tipping hotspots.

IPCO noted the surveillance application forms consistently provided very little case specific information and involved the repeated use of a templated application form – made obvious by the failure to change the URN on some documents.

New measures

Since those uses a new Senior Responsible Officer and Taskforce Lead now oversee any future use of surveillance or CHIS powers.

New safeguarding measures have also been put in place since the first updated policy was approved last year and RIPA training has been given to council staff.

There were no RIPA applications by Thanet council during 2022 and this year.

Thanet council will next be inspected in 2025.

Councillors on the Governance and Audit Committee meeting on July 26 are expected to approve the adoption of the updated Policy and agree its publication.

What is RIPA?

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation and the interception of communications. The aim of the powers is to fight terrorism and combat crime.

It can only be used if criminal activity is suspected. The bill has been nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter by privacy campaigners.

Thanet council’s ‘secret surveillance’ application for investigation of own parking enforcement department

Thanet council uses secret surveillance to catch A299 fly-tippers


  1. If there is any secret surveillance to be done it hould be on Riveroak, TDC and it’s Cllrs and MPs. There has been very underhanded dodgy goings on there and continues to be. #buildonbrownfieldbuildonmanston

  2. Thanet Council need to stop snooping on councillors social media, also snooping on their emails remotely which is a criminal offence along with opening Councillors post.

  3. Hmmm . . . so why was TDC spying on its own Enforcement Officers ?

    Were they issuing on the spot fines and pocketing the cash ?

    Were they skiving instead of being out and about preventing illegal parking and littering ?

    So many questions and so few answers.

    • No alledgedly the parking meters were being emptied of cash and the machines tampered with so that there was no record of what the machine had had put in , by the the enforcement officers. Pretty much an open secret within the departmemts involved , but never proven. I expect the surveillance was an attempt to catch them at it.

  4. Why do they need cameras to spy on fly tippers ramsgate port been used as a fly tipping site for a while try getting them to pay the fine

  5. Covert surveillance or any CCTV is a good thing anywhere in Thanet.
    The cost of good surveillance is very cheap these days and TDC should invest more as should the Police.

  6. What are shower they were ,Homer & co.RIPA has been missed so many times,not least here in Thanet.
    I can see a need for it but it should require a judicial overview by applying to at least a district judge,before anything is contemplated.
    Homer could not even fill in the paperwork correctly,so god knows what went on.

  7. I understand its illegal to video anyone without their permission, is that the case here? I had a neighbour who installed a camera so it overlooked my rear garden once, so I contacted the police who made them remove it!

    • We have a neighbour across the road who uses his CCTV cameras to peer into the house next door when the residents are in. He uses the front one to watch us whenever we go out into our garden. He loves provoking passers by then telling them they are being watched on his cameras. He is a loopy but the police have done nothing about the cameras spy on everyone, They say to contact ICO as it’s data gathering but they don’t even respond. Seems these people can point their CCTV anywhere, unhindered.

  8. Was it TDC or members of RAG who filmed Madeleine Homer and her alleged or actual partner when they were out and about together after work?

  9. We had a burglary from the gack of our shop. They stole a 5 metre long metal heavy security shutter. They put it on a transit pickup and it overhung a couple of meters off the back. The closest camera only 100m away didn’t spot the vehicle!!!!! The excuse camera wasn’t pointing right direction. That was impossible as I was chasing the vehicle on foot and footage would have been captured in any direction the pickup went. Also it was stolen whilst they parked in a council car park. If no cameras in thanet could capture this obvious vehicle I don’t see why they wasting there time on more cameras and staff to man them.

    • They no longer fully man the cameras. They only check recorded footage if they deem the crime serious enough.
      The excuses they give are always that the cameras didn’t pick it up, it was too far away, too dark (LED streetlighting) or they were facing away from the action.

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