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News and Comment March 2012

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19 March (Part 3) - There’s none so blind…

New cameras go live257 places you can’t go in Bexley without having your movements tracked by Bexley council; or 257 places you are safe from harm, or if not then at least the police will have all the evidence they need for a successful prosecution. Take your pick. When Nicholas Dowling and I took photographs of the Cinema Car Park exactly a year ago we found ourselves identified by name via the CCTV, the details passed to a councillor or someone else in a senior position, and blogged in graphic terms as to what the two of us had been up to in the gloom.

Don’t think that the CCTV system is not abused by Bexley council. One day when I can find the time I shall tell you another story of how Bexley council uses CCTV for the express purpose of getting people into trouble. Meanwhile I bring you this little tale from another resident. The words are all his, but I did take the precaution of going to see him and hearing the full story.

For legal reasons that whole story cannot be told but there are once again elements of ‘it’s not what you know, it is who you know’. I’ll have to leave it to your imagination as to why the attacker was identified on CCTV by some viewers but not by the police officers in charge.

We learn from the News Shopper that Bexley Council has spent more than £2·3 million on CCTV cameras during the past four years. “Our CCTV network has played a key role in helping Bexley have one of the lowest crime rates in London” claimed Bexley cabinet member for community safety Peter Craske. “The cameras led to 615 arrests in 2010 and 700 arrests in 2011, so they are delivering real results in helping catch criminals and prevent crime from taking place.”

Let’s then see what happens when a serious assault in Bexley is captured on CCTV:

On 13 September 2010, a youth was sitting on a bench at a Bexley school when another youth came and sat behind him and pushed him off. As the first youth fell, he took hold of the second youth to get his balance, and the second youth fell with him. The second youth got up, climbed on the bench and then jumped down onto the first youth, punching him several times in the head and face, which fractured his eye socket and left him with a permanent visual disability.

But - good news! The assault was captured on CCTV, which the Head teacher confirmed shows the suspect pushing the victim off the bench, the victim pulling the suspect off with him, and ‘the suspect jumping off the bench and punching the victim three times with one fist to the head’. As Peter Craske claimed, this could help catch criminals, and the suspect was indeed arrested. However, the arresting officer DC Mahoney somehow failed to see the attack when he watched the CCTV footage, noting in the crime report that CCTV ‘does not capture the main assault. It shows the victim and the suspect falling to the floor at the start of the fight but then they go out of view’. Perhaps, as he was watching, his view was disturbed by a speck of dust landing in his eye at the crucial moment.

Back at the station, Bexley Police were rapidly gearing up for action. 23 days after the arrest, DI Underwood set up an ‘Action Plan’ for PC Hooper to ‘assess’ the CCTV. Four days later, DS Betez noted that PC Hooper had still to ‘review CCTV and confirm what it actually captures’. A further six days later, DI Underwood noted that ‘enquiries continue in order to review the CCTV’. And only eight more days after this, officers actually got around to ‘reviewing’ the CCTV and failing to spot the assault once again, with DC Betez noting that CCTV ‘does not capture the incident and is unused material with no evidential value’.

The evidence was submitted to the Prosecutor 46 days after the assault, and without the CCTV footage, leading her to note of the CCTV ‘I am reliably informed that it merely shows a group of persons at the end of a playground and they cannot be identified. It is therefore of no evidential value… accordingly I advise ‘No Further Action’. And the case was dropped.

What another great success for Bexley! There was a temporary arrest, boosting the statistics that Councillor Craske could boast about. Police avoided both the hassle of a prosecution and having to actually do anything about the CCTV footage. CCTV suppliers got paid handsomely for all their expensive equipment. And the attacker got let off.

Of course, there are a few downsides - the cash-strapped residents of Bexley shelling out a huge amount for CCTV equipment that the Police chose not to use, the local area remaining a violent and unsafe place despite the statistics, and the victim failing to get any justice. But then let’s not focus on the negatives, when there is clearly so much to be proud of in this borough.


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