Saturday, December 06, 2008

The terror of unlicenced paperboys

Look, if we're going to have a police state meme let's at least concentrate on the way the police misuse their powers on ordinary people - not just when one of the important people feels the fetid, pork pie breath of the law down their over starched collar. Plus it's nice to have a Cambridge story once in a while.

The front page news today was Cambridgeshire County Council's continued use of anti-terror legislation for things it was never designed for. Not content with spying on the punters, or the homeless they're now cracking down on the exploding paperboys of death... well, paperboys anyway.

When Newsagents Rashmi and Dips Solanki found themselves in court over some trivial paperwork issues little did they realise they had been the subject of a covert operation sanctioned under RIPA, an act which was brought in specifically in order to combat serious crime and terrorism, and lends extensive powers to the police to monitor communications.

As many of us have argued repeatedly over the course of this government the rhetoric Ministers use to justify legislation and how that legislation will actually get used don't always match up. When they bring in new laws they don't say "We want to arrest old men at our party conference" they frown a lot and talk about how seriously they take terrorism.

So what happened in our case? Well, the Solanki's were employing eight paper boys and girls and although they had applied for work permits for all eight, five of the permits had not yet been signed, and so the kids should not have been working yet as they were unlicensed. Here the intrepid council leaps into action.

Option one: phone them up and ask them to sort out the paperwork. After all there is no question of fraud being involved or improper behaviour, it's just some forms that need to be signed. There's not even any money owed as far as I can work out.

Option two: let's get James Bond on their asses! Yeah, it costs more. Yeah, it's heavy handed and unnecessary. Yeah, it turns the council from the servant of the community into a domineering, out of control watchdog. But on the plus side you get to play at spies!

So they set up a covert operation to prove that the school had not yet processed five forms. You'd have thought, popping round might have been quicker though. The pair now have a six month conditional discharge and a criminal record to their names and the council can be proud that its jihad to rid the world of shoddy paperwork has one again borne fruit.

A council spokesman said "We were simply enforcing the law." Is this really what local councils are for?

(apologies for not linking to the story:
the CEN site seems to be down at the moment)

1 comment:

ModernityBlog said...

these Counter terrorism laws are scary, I think Lord Acton was correct.