Tuesday 30 November 2010

Redbridge Street Enforcement - Inept Or Wilfully Obstructive?

I have written before [see here, here and here] about the decision of Redbridge council to send me three fixed penalty notices by for allegedly fly posting leaflets about the Save Wanstead Flats campaign.

Those notices were begrudgingly withdrawn after they were challenged, with the caveat that “as long as there is no repeat if the original offence, you will not hear from us again.” As there never was an 'original offence' involving anything I have ever done, I have tried to understand this puzzle: how did Redbridge council reach the decision to target me, when my name does not appear on the campaign's publicity? Did they just just pick the first name they could find on Google?

So on 20 October, I made a Data Protection Act request, requesting the release of information that the council's Street Scene Enforcement team holds on me within the statutory 40 calendar days. Just days before the deadline on 29 November, a package arrived at work - and sadly, it was a very long way from illuminating.

The released information contains a short hand-written notebook entry recording where the flyers were found, a copy of the poster (complete, I note, with the words NOT FOR FLYPOSTING printed on the bottom), five photos of the offending posters pinned to trees, copies of my own correspondence with the department and short - very short - action logs. But nowhere is there any information about how the case officer who issued the threats of legal action reached the decision to connect a flyer with no personal details on it to a named individual.

Basically, this means one of two things. Either Redbridge's Street Scene Enforcement team is incompetent, keep the most incredibly lax records and are in breach its own Operating Procedures [PDF], which states that investigations "will be carried out in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice and agreed procedures". For those unfamiliar with PACE, Code D is very demanding on the importance of keeping accurate and reliable records when exercising statutory powers to identify persons, in order to "provide safeguards against mistaken identification."

Or alternatively, the council has breached the Data Protection Act by failing to provide all the information it holds.

So which is it - ineptitude or wilful obstruction? Either way, the package I received in the post has done nothing to change my view that Redbridge’s Street Scene Enforcement officers remain completely out of control.

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