Benefit cheats in Northamptonshire caught by surveillance

A council in Northamptonshire has admitted to using surveillance to catch benefit cheats.

Covert surveillance was used twice last year by Wellingborough Council to uncover £128,067 in benefit fraud.

Surveillance techniques include using hidden cameras and human spies.

The techniques have been criticised by some, but council officials say they are only used when other techniques have failed, and argue they are in the public interest.

A spokesperson for the council said it adheres to a list of policies and procedures before surveillance is authorised.

Spying operations

Councillor Thomas Pursglove, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: "We can rely on information obtained from surveillance in court, so we need to make sure we follow the rules carefully, otherwise the evidence could be excluded and the defendant could potentially take action against us for breach of human rights."

The techniques have attracted some criticism from civil rights groups, but Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the council was right to use surveillance in this instance.

He said: "There are clearly cases like this where it is appropriate and effective for councils to use covert surveillance. However, there are thousands of spying operations launched by councils every year that do not result in prosecutions and have been investigating dog fouling, the smoking ban and even monitoring council staff."

The procedures and figures will be discussed at a council meeting on Monday.

Councillor Pursglove added: "The committee on Monday will be able to ask questions so that they are satisfied we are continuing to use investigatory powers correctly, for the right reasons, and to get the best results for law-abiding taxpayers."

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