Council used anti-terror laws to ‘spy’ on school choice family

A council has admitted spying on a family confirm it living in the catchment area of a popular school, as claimed.

Poole borough council used controversial anti-terror laws to put the family of five under surveillance for nearly three weeks.

The council has admitted to using powers available under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), normally reserved for tracking criminals and terrorists.

It said that the legislation had been used to watch the family in an attempt to find out whether they lived in the catchment area for a school where they had applied for their three-year-old daughter to attend.

Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services at Poole borough council, defended the council’s action, saying today: “The council is committed to investigating the small minority of people who attempt to break the law and affect the quality of life for the majority of law-abiding residents in Poole.

“On a small number of occasions, RIPA procedures have been used to investigate potentially fraudulent applications for school places. In such circumstances, we have considered it appropriate to treat the matter as a potential criminal matter.”

Mr Martin added: “The council is keen to ensure that the information given by parents who apply for school places is true. This protects the majority of honest parents against the small number of questionable applications.

“An investigation may actually satisfy the council that the application is valid, as happened in this case.”

Human rights group Liberty described the surveillance as “ridiculously disproportionate” and claimed it would “undermine public trust in necessary and lawful surveillance”.