GLOBE ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: The council spy car patrolling Wirral, photographing and fining motorists (From Wirral Globe)
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GLOBE ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: The council spy car patrolling Wirral, photographing and fining motorists
The council surveillance car was spotted on Wednesday afternoon in The Crescent, West Kirby, by a Globe reader
A SURVEILLANCE car paid for with council tax is patrolling Wirral taking surreptitious photographs of errant motorists who then receive fines through the post.
But Wirral West MP Stephen Hesford and local councillors have questioned Wirral Council's motives.
The white Smart car - marked out in Wirral Council livery - is fitted with a 'periscope' camera on its roof.
The council says it is primarily to catch out "disruptive or dangerous" drivers - like those who park on zig zag road markings outside schools.
But on Wednesday afternoon a Globe reader spotted it parked in The Crescent, West Kirby - a road the council had been planning to pedestrianise earlier this year - apparently monitoring motorists stopping to use an ATM at a bank opposite on Banks Road.
The car's camera was level with the windows of the private accommodation above The Crescent's shops.
'At a time when the council wishes to decimate library services it is spending thousands of pounds in snooping on my constituents'Wirral West MP Stephen Hesford
"I was horrified," said the reader, who has asked not to be named but who emailed us his photographs of the car.
"It can park normally and then raise its periscope camera to spy on vehicles while hidden in a row of parked cars.
"You then receive a parking ticket without knowing an offence has been committed. That's sneaky.
"I would also be very concerned about misuse and abuse of this periscope camera by the drivers and of course the cost of such a unit."
He added: "The choice of a Smart car was obviously deliberate, its size enabling it to hide effectively in a row of parked cars to carry out its dastardly business.
"I find it petty and vindictive which I guess sums up this awful council.
"Seeing it in the flesh brought home the Orwellian nature of its intrusiveness. I had shivers down the spine."
Wirral West MP Mr Hesford said: "I just wonder whether the council has its priorities right.
"At a time when it wishes to decimate library services it is spending thousands of pounds in snooping on my constituents and disrupting the ordinary commercial life of places like West Kirby.
"I think that the council should re-examine its spending priorities."
The car was seen driving through New Brighton on Thursday afternoon by Globe photographer David Gennard, who followed it as it drove past St Mary's College in Wallasey Village, up Grove Road and onto Warren Drive into New Brighton.
The resort's Conservative Cllr Sue Taylor said: "How dare they waste this money?
"There are more than enough parking enforcement officers on the streets as it is.
"The police also operate large and small CCTV vans so this is just blatantly duplicating services we are already paying for.
"Who's agreed it and how much? Surveillance doesn't come cheap."
Tory Cllr Leah Fraser, who until recently chaired the corporate services committee that investigated Wirral Council's use of the government's controversial RIPA laws - which allow council employees to use anti-terror legislation to snoop on residents for incidents like fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour - was also angry.
"This is yet another example of Wirral Council’s confused priorities," she said.
"A mobile CCTV camera, which was bought to improve road safety around schools, is instead being used to boost the council’s income from parking fines.
"This is the same council that had to switch off the CCTV cameras in crime hotspots due to cash problems.
"Big Brother is alive and well in Wallasey Town Hall, whether it is secret snooping using anti-terrorist laws or a video camera on a twenty foot pole going past your bedroom window."
She added: "Where are these pictures stored? How long are they kept for?
"The public needs to know how long this information is stored and who's got access to it."
A council spokeswoman said: "The vehicle has been on the road since April.
"It has been supplied and is operated by NSL (formerly NCP) as part of their parking enforcement contract with Wirral Council.
"There is no additional cost to the council for the vehicle’s deployment.
"Authorisation for the use of this CCTV vehicle in Wirral came from cabinet, and it is primarily used to tackle disruptive or dangerous parking, for example outside schools, although it may be used to deal with problem parking anywhere across the borough."