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Council uses anti-terror laws to find out who pruned tree

By This is Croydon  |  Posted: November 03, 2009

PROTECTING NATIONAL SECURI-TREE: The council wanted to know who had pruned a Scots pine like the one pictured

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By Gareth Davies


Council chiefs have used anti-terror laws to try and identify who was behind the illegal pruning of a tree.

A Croydon Council tree officer employed the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA) to hunt through mobile phone records in a bid to catch a tree pruner who had given them the slip.

The man - understood to have been a builder - had been caught cutting back a Scots pine, but evaded prosecution by giving the authorities a false address.

Not to be foiled, the council invoked the special Government powers - which are designed to protect national security - in the hope the phone number given by the man would reveal his identity.

However, using the legislation proved in vain because the tree cutter was using a prepaid, unregistered phone, and he remains at large.

Council chiefs - while refusing to reveal where the tree was - have defended using RIPA, stating that nearby residents were concerned the tree was being "attacked".

A spokesman for the council said: "A search for the address of a man caught illegally pruning a preserved large, mature Scots pine was made only after every other avenue open to us was exhausted.

"The man was caught committing a criminal act following several complaints from residents who were extremely concerned that a beautiful tree was being attacked.

"The RIPA search told us that the mobile telephone number given was for an anonymous pre-pay handset and we are still trying to trace him so that we can help bring a prosecution.

"This is the first and only time our tree officers have used RIPA and that should give the general public some indication of the damage done to what was a much-loved tree."

The council refused to disclose where the tree is, insisting that because it is on private land identifying it would breach the Data Protection Act.

Only five Croydon Council officers have the power to authorise the use of RIPA, all of whom are directors or senior managers.

Since January 2004, the council has used the act on 212 occasions to investigate offences from anti-social behaviour and racial harassment, to fly-tipping and council tax fraud.

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    eh?, Not here.  |  May 21 2010, 10:32PM

    Council chiefs have used anti-terror laws to try and identify who was behind the illegal pruning of a tree. ermmm am i missing something here? so have they found bin laden then?

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    Bill, Australia  |  May 21 2010, 4:38AM

    Sorry typo on trespass. Maybe we need to revert to the old religion and the original Lords Prayer to emphasize trespass more rather than forgiving debts to counter the new religion of Green.

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    Bill, Australia  |  May 21 2010, 4:33AM

    Hey the Council officer should be prosecuted but hey, its Big Brother so no-one has the guts to complain. And it looks like an adjacent builder was pruning overhanging branches which is allowed unless you have more draconian rules to protect trees by allowing tresspass by the neighbour who owns the tree. More jobs for the boys and girls in the Law!

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    tricia, croydon  |  November 05 2009, 11:50PM

    Still laughing.. A croydon council tree officer, Whatever next...

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    Rumpole, The Bailey  |  November 05 2009, 1:51PM

    Thinking about this some more, it implies that the council got details of all mobile phone calls made in a given period from the cell in which this tree is situated (which would explain the reliance on s 21 of RIPA and not just the DP Act) and then looked up the details of each subscriber. If so, then the Scottish courts ruled this sort of practice unlawful many years ago, as it's a fishing trip. Perhaps the council would like to try googling "Fettesgate".

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    Rumpole, The Bailey  |  November 05 2009, 1:32PM

    I think we need to simmer down a bit and look at the legislation in question. RIPA is not about countering terrorism, it¿s about protecting your and my human rights. Anti-terrorism is covered by its own draconian, illiberal and barely democratic law. I assume that the council got legal advice to say that getting the details of a 'phone subscriber (in this case the errant pruner) was covered by s21 et seq of RIPA. Personally, I'd have thought that if they had the number, it would be a simple Data Protection Act issue but I defer to the advice they've obtained. If you read this bit of RIPA, you'll see that there are detailed limits on what plod can do to get information about how someone is using a telecoms system. So, RIPA is as much about what plod et al CAN'T do and what procedures they must follow when investigating offences. It goes back to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires the state not to hassle us unduly. All of that said, it does seem an extraordinary length to which to go, just to find out who was wielding the secateurs. I wonder how much this (ultimately unproductive) investigation cost.

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    AddiscombeReader, Addiscombe  |  November 03 2009, 10:17PM

    I agree with most posters esp. Diana and RobinHood. Charlotte, have a word with yourself love. No, the end does not justify the means.

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    RobinHood, Sherwood  |  November 03 2009, 9:30PM

    A sledge hammer to crack a nut. How much did the investigation cost the taxpayer? will the tree recover? Will Britain ever be sane again?

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    Mr.Angry, Purley  |  November 03 2009, 9:20PM

    Ye Gods,they refuse to say where pruned tree and using anti terrorist laws to try to catch pruner. My guess its on the Webb Est.they're quite tree sensitive there.

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    Charlotte, Thornton Heath  |  November 03 2009, 6:07PM

    If he's committed a crime then surely the ends justify the means?