Transport for London (TfL) can cover up the huge cost of sabotaged ULEZ cameras because disclosing the sums might incite encourage 'blade runner' vandals, a government body has ruled.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has blocked the release of each London borough’s repair bill, saying it would encourage "competition" to destroy even more cameras. 

Since the controversial charge was expanded to Greater London, which City Hall said was to reduce deadly air pollution, masked vandals calling themselves “blade runners” have been destroying the cameras. 

They have even chopped down traffic lights, potentially creating serious danger on the roads, where ULEZ cameras were affixed. 

In October, we used the Freedom of Information Act to find out the number of sabotaged cameras in each borough, and the public cost of fixing them all. 

TfL refused to answer, claiming it would “adversely affect the course of justice”. 

It said “significant opposition” to ULEZ, from “a vociferous minority”, had sparked “a significant and sustained campaign of criminal damage”. 

“To minimise the threat and reduce the damage to our camera network, which has been and continues to be under repeat attack, we have been refusing to disclose information relating to these ULEZ enforcement cameras,” it said. 

Newham Recorder: ULEZ was extended to greater London in summer 2023, after which masked vandals calling themselves 'blade runners' started sabotaging the camerasULEZ was extended to greater London in summer 2023, after which masked vandals calling themselves 'blade runners' started sabotaging the cameras (Image: PA)

We reported in January how TfL had cited sabotaged ULEZ cameras as a justification for “greatly limiting” transparency over its entire “enforcement and infrastructure” operations.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information called TfL’s position “highly questionable”, particularly in an election year. 

We asked the ICO - the official information watchdog - to investigate TfL’s secrecy over ULEZ. 

TfL told the watchdog that public databases were being compiled online of ULEZ camera locations, so answering our questions “would lead to further requests being made for the same information, across cumulative time periods, that would help build up a wider picture of disruption”. 

This, it claimed, “would be utilised by those either committing the damage or supporting the damage to publicise their activities and embolden others to carry out attacks of their own”.

TfL’s argument, summarised by the ICO, was that the public spending information “would confirm which London boroughs have been most targeted, in terms of ULEZ camera damage, and cost, and increase ‘competition’ with other boroughs. 

“It would also provide the online databases with information they need to verify how accurate their own online tracking is. This will make the online databases more reliable and allow more targeted action to be taken against the ULEZ cameras.”

Newham Recorder: 'Blade runner' vandals have also targeted vans used by ULEZ enforcement teams'Blade runner' vandals have also targeted vans used by ULEZ enforcement teams (Image: Contributor)

We had not asked for the locations of any damaged cameras or the specific costs of any repairs. 

We had only asked for a total number of cameras sabotaged in each borough to date, and a total repair bill for each borough. 

But the ICO has sided with TfL. 

“The commissioner considers it highly significant that online databases exist to facilitate and encourage individuals to gather and verify as much information about the ULEZ cameras as possible,” it wrote. 

“The public authority has pointed the commissioner to one online database in question. Whilst the commissioner notes the database doesn’t condone ‘any vandalism to public property’, it’s likely such databases are invaluable tools for those who intend on vandalising ULEZ cameras.

“The commissioner understands that the Met [Police] has dedicated significant resources to ULEZ camera crime. 

“The commissioner is satisfied that any information that aids and assists current and future offenders, would inhibit the police’s ability to investigate and prosecute offenders, therefore adversely affecting the course of justice.”

Outspoken ULEZ critic Keith Prince, London Assembly member for Redbridge and Havering, rejected the suggestion that releasing public spending data could incite crimes. 

“I find that hard to believe and certainly would not condone such actions,” he said. 

“Recently an attempt to damage a ULEZ camera resulted in major road disruption because the signals were damaged too. 

“TfL are hiding behind bureaucracy to mask the amount of resources and money being wasted on this punitive tax.”