This is why covert surveillance is being used in Sheffield to catch criminals

Covert surveillance has been used by council officers investigating the sale of counterfeit cigarettes in Sheffield.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 10:50 am

The council applied to magistrates three times between 2018 and 2019 to use covert surveillance to investigate the suspected sale of illicit tobacco and cigarettes in the city.

Coun Mark Jones, Cabinet member for environment, streetscene and climate change, said: “We take our role in protecting members of the public very seriously and use a range of methods to investigate criminal activity.

“Covert surveillance might be considered as part of wider investigations into suspected crime, such as the sale of age restricted products, like cigarettes and alcohol, or the sale of counterfeit goods.

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Covert surveillance is being used in Sheffield to catch people who are selling illicit cigarettes in the city

“In three cases we have used covert surveillance to help secure important evidence relating to the sale of illegal tobacco.

“It is our duty to do everything we can to stop illegal traders and fraudsters, whose actions can have devastating effects on people’s lives and health.”

Council officers are tight-lipped about how the surveillance is actually carried out.

A spokesman said: “To disclose this would reveal methods and tactics used and persons under surveillance may initiate countermeasures.

“However we use nationally and locally approved methods and all operations are controlled by council staff.

“Monitoring social media can be construed as surveillance and it might be acceptable to look at an individual’s social media once for work purposes, but not more than that.

“If the council has reason to monitor an individual’s social media accounts more than once then the individual should be notified.

“Exceptions apply to safeguarding cases, where there is a duty of care to a child or vulnerable person.”

Any applications to magistrates are not released to the public and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

But the documents are open to inspection to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner which checks councils are following legislation correctly.

The council can use the Investigatory Powers Act to carry out covert surveillance.

The covert surveillance must start within three months following court approval and can last anything from a few hours to several days.