Councils hire Citizen snoopers as young as 7 to report neighbours *

Daily Mail
By Lucy Ballinger
18.05.2009

Town halls hire citizen snoopers as young as SEVEN to spy on neighbours and report wrongs

Children as young as seven are being recruited by councils to act as ‘citizen snoopers’, the Daily Mail can reveal.

The ‘environment volunteers’ will report on litter louts, noisy neighbours - and even families putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.

There are currently almost 9,000 people signed up to the schemes. More are likely to be recruited in the coming months.

Controversially, some councils are running ‘junior’ schemes which are recruiting children.

Councils are recruiting children as well as adults to spy on their neighbours

After basic training, volunteers are expected to be the ‘eyes and the ears’ of the town hall.

They are given information packs about how to collect evidence, including tips about writing down numberplates, which could later be used in criminal prosecutions.

Luton Borough Council’s Street Seen scheme encourages its 650 volunteers to report ‘environmental concerns’. It is also recruiting ‘Junior Street Champions’, aged between seven and 11.

Primary schools could also be involved within two years.

Similarly, Islington Council in north London has recruited 1,200 ‘Islington Eyes’ to report crime hotspots, fly-tipping and excess noise from DIY.

Volunteers are given a list of things to do when confronted with fly-tippers, including taking photos ‘without being seen’.

Last year the council undertook a recruitment drive for youngsters aged nine and above, called Junior Eyes.

Children are given special books to write down reports on littering or graffiti in their schools, which they then send to the council.

A spokesman for Islington town hall said: ‘It’s not possible for the council to see what’s going on in the borough at all times, so our Eyes for Islington are a great help, reporting issues such as dangerous footpaths, fly-tipping and graffiti.’

Welwyn Hatfield Council in Hertfordshire has given its 13 volunteers handheld computers to take photographs of problem areas.

The information is then uploaded to a map of trouble spots.

Overall, a total of 8,442 volunteers have signed up at 17 councils in England. Other councils are set to follow their example and set up their own networks of volunteers.

They say the scheme helps them find out about problems which they might not know about otherwise. But critics are worried the schemes could easily be abused and encourage a ‘Big Brother society’.

The move comes as local authorities dish out £100 fines to householders who leave out too much rubbish or fail to follow recycling rules.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Community spirit is one thing, spying on your neighbours is quite another.

‘People are sick and tired of being spied on by their councils […]’

The Welwyn and Hatfield scheme is run by waste collection and environmental contractor Serco, which hopes to recruit more volunteers this summer.

Serco said other councils were keen to introduce its handheld computers, although many areas are conducting similar schemes using more low-tech methods.

For example, Hillingdon Borough Council in north London, which has recruited 4,800 volunteers from the age of 16 in the past 18 months, simply gives its ‘Street Champions’ pens and a folder of contact details.

A spokesman said: ‘Street Champions are asked to act just as any other resident might to report issues in their local area.’

However, the controversial pilot schemes have been dropped in a number of areas including Stoke -on-Trent in Staffordshire and Tower Hamlets in east London.

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