UK Judge says CCTV surveillance is useless waste of money

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Thu Feb 27 18:39:46 EST 2003

Judge calls radio  phone-in to say CCTV is useless waste of money 
By Paul Stokes 
(Filed: 27/02/2003) 

A judge telephoned a radio phone-in programme from his chambers to say that film from CCTV cameras was often "completely useless" as evidence. 

Listeners to a BBC Radio Cleveland debate on security systems were told by Judge Peter Fox, QC, that the images produced by such cameras were almost invariably poor and a waste of money. 

The judge was driving to work in Middlesbrough when he heard the item inviting people to express their views about the extension of a local security system. When he arrived at Teesside Crown Court, where he is the senior judge, he got straight on the telephone to relate his own experiences. 

He told the radio show host Matthew Davies: "I preside over some very serious cases - murder, rape and robbery. The footage from CCTV is increasingly being used but it is extremely rare indeed for it to be of any use." 

He appealed to those behind the technology to ensure that the images produced were clear enough to be useful, showing "the features of the person or the type of clothing that the people are wearing who are committing these crimes." 

He welcomed an extension of CCTV, saying it had enormous potential to determine whether or not a person had committed a crime, but he appealed for "quality rather than quantity". 

Judge Fox said: "Whether it is street CCTV or shops or service stations the footage is almost always so poor as to be useless. Valuable resources are being wasted by police and lawyers. Cases are costing enormous sums of money poring over the footage which turns out to be completely useless." 

He added: "You can imagine that juries look at this footage and think 'Well, what on earth are we going to make of it?' " 

Judge Fox telephoned the programme during a debate on a £160,000, six-camera CCTV extension in Eston, on the north-east coast of Teesside, by Redcar and Cleveland borough council. The authority has spent more than £3 million on its CCTV system over the past decade. 

Dave McLuckie, the council's lead member for community safety who also sits on Cleveland Police Authority, said: "The cameras are a major deterrent to crime occurring in the first place and have reduced offending by up to 60 per cent in some areas. 

"I would warn any criminals out there that Judge Fox is gravely mistaken. We have had many successful prosecutions using the images collected, including a major credit card scam and drug offences. 

"We continually replace our cameras with the latest digital technology and the images are now full colour and of a very high resolution." 

The judge's comments came as John Denham, the Home Office minister, launched what was described as the most technically advanced digital system in the UK. 

It has been installed in Sheffield at a cost of £3.35 million and the images produced are claimed to be so clear that they can be used in evidence. 

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
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experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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