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Wrexham Council used controversial surveillance powers to act against residents 47 times during a three year period.

The authority used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to deal with residents involved in fly tipping, animal welfare and creating a noise nuisance.

The figures were revealed in a report compiled by the civil rights group Big Brother Watch.

The group says that the law was introduced to prevent terrorism and serious crime and not to snoop on residents for minor offences. Earlier this year the UK government changed the law so that local authorities are required to seek a magistrate’s approval to use the powers.

In 2008/9 Wrexham Council used RIPA 28 times to investigate 13 cases of drug offences relating to tenancy enforcement, six of illegal waste disposal/fly tipping, four of anti-social behaviour relating to tenancy enforcement, three of noise nuisance, one of benefit fraud and one of counterfeit goods.

In 2009/10 the powers were employed on 11 occasions with five noise nuisance investigations, three fly tipping/illegal waste disposal, one drug offence relating to tenancy enforcement, one of animal welfare and one of counterfeit goods.

By 2010/11 the use of the law had gone down to just eight instances, all of which related to noise nuisance complaints.

We asked Wrexham Council why the act was used to investigate what in some cases appear to be relatively minor offences, they said: “Wrexham Council does not use this act for relatively minor offences. The legislation was enacted by central government and in Wrexham it has been predominately used to verify any incidents of noise pollution, and nuisance or issues concerning Trading Standards and public protection criminal actions.”

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government stressed that the powers should not be used without proper justification: “It is important that the public can have faith that surveillance powers are being used only in those situations where serious crimes are taking place and when there are no less intrusive alternative routes of investigation,” he said.

“That’s why we need robust accountability of all state bodies, not just local authorities, to ensure these state powers are not used without proper justification, and I welcome Big Brother Watch’s continuing scrutiny and challenge.”

Do you think fly tipping is comparable to an offence such as terrorism? Join the debate on our forums.

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