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Mother challenges council's school place 'spying'

6 November 2009

A woman has begun a battle against a council’s use of powers to ‘spy’ on her family, in the first oral hearing before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal involving a local authority.

Jenny Paton claimed that Poole Borough Council documented her movements and those of her partner 21 times to find out whether her children live in the correct school catchment area.

The council used its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to carry out the surveillance for three weeks last February, concerned that the family was not living in the right area to qualify for a place at Lilliput First School in Poole.

Gordon Nardell, counsel for the family, said: “The complainants have and were found to have played by the rules but this local authority played fast and loose.”

He said it was “quite extraordinary” that the surveillance was authorised when alternative methods, such as interviewing the family, could have been used.

Meanwhile, following a public consultation on RIPA, home secretary Alan Johnson promised to raise the level of authorisation required by local authorities to carry out investigations.

A senior executive will now have to approve how and when investigatory techniques are used to protect the public and fight crime.

The new measures also require elected councillors in each local authority to oversee the use of the Act.

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