That was the message coming loud and clear from the community at a meeting about the Spy Cameras that have been put up in the Balsall Heath and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham under the name ‘Project Champion’. Without any public consultation, ‘Project Champion’ saw the positioning of around 150 ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras and 72 covert surveillance cameras.
These cameras happen to be sited in two predominantly muslim areas in Birmingham. These cameras record all vehicle movements and have the capacity to photograph front seat passangers. The meeting was attended by about 250 people and any suggestion of taking down the cameras was greeted with an ever increasing roar of approval. The temperature is rising and West Midlands Police have created a powder keg of anger and resentment primed with a fuse of mistrust.
West Midlands Police seemed to be on a damage limitation exercise assuring people that the ANPR cameras are not in operation and are soon to be covered over.
They also claimed that the 72 covert surveillance cameras will be removed and that the counter terrorist element of the surveillance has been withdrawn and there will be a review of Project Champion. All this would be to make way for a consultation – not that one is needed because the show of hands was unanimous,
TAKE THEM DOWN! So the local community have got the police back peddling and have already won a few rounds. Questions were asked of how the police could be trusted to remove cameras when we don’t even know there whereabouts.
The Police top officer Sharon Rowe and Safer Birmingham’s Jackie Russell continued to try and sell the cameras on the falsehood that they are there to reduce general crime. Unfortunately some of the elected members there fell into that trap. The audience just were not swallowing it and the PR exercise by the police just seems to be rubbing people up even more.
The money (£3million) comes wholly from Home Office counter terrorism funds. When asked who, knew what and decided what, both Rowe and Russell claimed that it was unclear and that they didn’t know. Did they really expect people to believe that £3m worth of equipment gets put up to counter terrorism and none of the meetings to plan the project were minuted? It is this sort of blatant lies that aids the digging of their own grave.
Councillors lined up to say that they had been deceived by the police about the true nature and extent of the camera network. Risk assessments and Equality Impact Assessments had not been carried out and whilst the police are the fund holders the cameras were put up by the council so as to side step planning procedures. Shami Shakrabati from Liberty who said that the cameras were not only dangerous, divisive and wrong but also illegal announced a ‘potential’ legal action.
Alex Dean from Big Brother Watch assured the audience that the suspension of the cameras was forced on the police by the public response. He went on to warn that if the cameras are accepted here then they will be rolled out to other areas and other cities to become the norm. Steve Jolly a local campaigner who runs the Moseley Spy Cameras facebook warned of the steps towards a police state and said that our liberties and freedoms were not so much under threat from terrorists as they are from the state.
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham spoke of the wholesale demonisation of the muslim community. Referring to the Home Office’s questionable estimate of 2000 Al Qaeda suspects he called for their details to be given to their communities so that they could deal with them and suggested that the police should be given ten days notice to remove the cameras or face civil uproar. Salma Yaqoob said that if you wanted to come up with a plan to cause division and mistrust and ghettoise an area then Project Champion would be your answer. She gave the police the rest of the summer to remove them warning if they don’t then we will. Once more there was a huge cheer of intent.
The meeting had been designed to temper down people’s anger but it still showed through. Frustration in the local community is growing and the campaign to remove the cameras needs to step up a gear and create an unrelenting pressure for the cameras to come down. The tactic of the police and council is obvious, try to rig a consultation and get the cameras accepted as an extension of the current CCTV in the fight against general crime. That is what they may gamble for …what they may get is an even more angry, distrusting and defiant community.