West Midlands Police has been accused of being evasive and stonewalling an inquiry into the controversial installation of covert spy cameras in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe appeared before the Birmingham City Council inquiry committee and told them she was not allowed to answer any questions on the £3.5 million Project Champion, the installation of CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR, cameras in Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath.
In a statement to the inquiry she said that Chief Constable Chris Sims decided that it was not appropriate to answer questions before the independent inquiry by Thames Valley Police is concluded in the autumn.
The inquiry was called to learn why the installation of more than 200 cameras, many hidden, led to a breakdown in community relations in inner city Birmingham and ensure it is not repeated in future.
Fury erupted after the cameras were installed without consultation and residents claimed they had all been branded as potential terrorists.
The Community Safety Scrutiny Committee inquiry was scathing of the police.
Coun Nigel Dawkins (Cons, Bournville) said: “The police have effectively stonewalled questions from elected councillors. It is very poor form.”
Questions were raised over both the independence of the Thames Valley Police review and whether the remit did overlap with the city council’s review.
While his colleague Coun Gareth Compton (Con, Erdington) said: “You have come along and said that you cannot answer any questions which are relevant. Not even straightforward simple questions of fact.”
He added that the lack of response may lead the committee to take a view more in line with the community opposed to the cameras than the police.
Earlier the inquiry had been told by the council’s cabinet member for community safety Ayoub Khan (Lib Dem, Aston) that at meetings with police in April 2009 elected councillors were told that the over riding purpose of the cameras was to tackle anti-social behaviour.
This was bourne out in minutes of meetings where the former Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Hyde said that he would be lying if counter terrorism was not an aim, but that “the reassurance and crime prevention benefits are far greater”.
Coun Khan said that he was not told the money would come from the ACPO/TAM anti-terror fund.
Coun Compton asked him: “Do you consider yourself the victim of a deception?”
“To a degree I do,” he replied.
Chief executive of the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership Jackie Russell also appeared before the inquiry and said that she felt the over riding purpose of the cameras was to tackle anti-social behaviour and that she did not know that ACPO/TAM was an anti-terror fund.
But Coun Compton suggested that alarm bells should have started ringing when she was invited to Counter Terrorism Unit meetings to discuss Project Champion.
She admitted: “We could have been offered more information at the time, but was not and we could have asked for more information but did not.”
The inquiry continues on Wednesday.