Newham drops plans for tower block ‘snooping’

Town hall bosses have been forced to drop plans to introduce a Big Brother snooping scheme in tower blocks after a public backlash.

Newham Council had issued orders that all guests must sign a register stating their name and the name and address of who they are visiting.

But furious tenants managed to stop the scheme in its tracks in one block after labelling it an “appalling” breach of privacy.

Newham Council, which rolled out the scheme in 30 high-rise flats, has agreed to suspend it in College Point, Wolffe Gardens, following objections from civil liberty campaigners and protests led by tenants and residents association chairman Matthew Jee.

He said: “I’m pleased Newham Council have seen sense. I think they knew what they were imposing was totally illegal.”

A letter, from Acting Estate Services Supervisor Ratheev Pallia, delivered last week, said the council was attempting to clampdown on bogus callers. The in Newham.

But former banker Matthew, 45, who has lived in the 21-storey block since 2003, in , said: “This had to be challenged, it was a flagrant breach of our privacy. I hope other residents follow this lead.

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And he called into question the council’s motives, adding: “If Newham Council were concerned about our security, they would have repaired our security doors, which have been broken for years. If they were concerned about bogus callers they should reinstate the camera intercoms which were disabled in 2003.”

The council’s moves were also criticised by civil rights campaigners Liberty.

Liberty’s legal officer Corinna Ferguson said: “These are people’s homes and they are entitled to visitors whenever they want. If there are real security concerns there are surely less intrusive ways of dealing with them than recording the identities of everyone entering the block.

“Bogus callers are likely to give a false name, whereas genuine ones will have their movements monitored by the Council. That can’t be fair or proportionate.”

A council spokesman said: “A new sign-in process for visitors has recently been introduced to council blocks with a concierge service following complaints about anti-social behaviour and bogus callers. A visitors book has been implemented as a deterrent to problems reported by residents. It is a system used by other London councils and has worked effectively. Residents are not being asked to sign in and if visitors decline, the concierge may contact the person they are visiting to verify details.

“There have been no complaints from any of the other 29 blocks affected by this change in service and other residents have spoken positively about the scheme as they have been requesting it for a while. However due to the complaints from College Point, it will be suspended in this particular block and a meeting will take place in the next fortnight organised by Newham Council with the TRA and other residents to gather feedback and look at other ways of improving security.

“These new arrangements were driven by Tenant and Resident Associations from across the borough who wanted to see tighter controls brought in to increase security. It will be reviewed over the coming months and feedback from residents will be welcomed. The security of our residents is our main priority and we are constantly looking at how we can improve our services to ensure this.”