Police discredited over secret plan to spy on Muslims

Friday 29 October 2010 - 21 Dhu al-Qa'dah 1431

Police discredited over secret plan to spy on Muslims

By Hamed Chapman

A secret police counter-terrorism operation to place Muslim communities under permanent surveillance in two areas of Birmingham was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law, a damning internal report has found. 
The installation of more than 200 CCTV cameras, known as Project Champion, was temporarily suspended in June after local councillors revealed police had misled residents into believing they were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.

While welcoming the report by the Chief Constable of Thames Valley police, Sara Thornton, Councillor for Birmingham Sparkbrook, Salma Yacoob, said that it was not enough for West Midlands Chief Constable, Chris Simms, to say he was sorry without mentioning any resignations or disciplinary actions.

“Apology is not enough. The cameras are still there and not removed. What will they do about this? No heads have rolled,” Yacoob told The Muslim News.

“I am sorry that we got such an important issue so wrong and that it has had such a negative impact on our communities,” Thornton said in a statement.

Yacoob said that what is most worrying is “the doubt it casts on the trustworthiness” of the police. “If they were prepared to behave in this way in setting up this project, how much could we trust them with
the information they gathered?” she warned.

The damning internal report confirmed that the counter-terrorism unit of the West Midlands police devised a “storyline” that concealed the true purpose of the secret £3 million ‘Project Champion.’ Counter-terrorism insignia was removed from paperwork as part of a deliberate strategy to “market” the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme to improve community safety.

Top police officers were also criticised for failing to ask questions about the operation’s “proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action.”
Thornton warned that attempts by police to conceal the true purpose of the project caused “significant damage to community relations.”

The surveillance of the movement of Muslims, including with Automatic Number Plate Reading (ANPR) capability, is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain and raised fears
that it was intended as a pilot scheme for other installations to spy on Muslim community.