Cleveland Police has approved more requests to seize private communications than nearly any other force in the UK.
The force has made 4,276 requests to access the public’s communications data over the past three years under controversial anti-terror powers.
According to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act, of these requests, only 14 were turned down.
This means that in 99.7% of cases, Cleveland Police has been able to access private information. Only two other forces had a higher success rate for their requests.
The force today defended its use of communications data as “a vital asset in the prevention and detection of crime”.
Police are continuing to review footage from the controversial TV show Benefits Street.
Officers from Cleveland Police say inquiries are ongoing into circumstances surrounding some of the scenes and also what unedited footage is available.
The show featured residents living on Stockton’s Kingston Road.
One of the criticised scenes featured Neil Maxwell. The 36-year-old was shown apparently dealing in cannabis and claiming £700 a month in benefits.
Maxwell, who has since been jailed for his role in a double stabbing, was also filmed smoking the drug.
When the first show aired on May 11, Cleveland Police issued a statement confirming they would assess footage from the show to see whether it can assist in criminal investigations.
Activists who occupied a well-known Trade Union building are claiming the direct action was a success.
A dozen members of the Teesside Anarchist Network, Teesside Solidarity and various individuals occupied the Trade Union-owned Cleveland Trade Unionists and Unemployed Workers Centre on Marton Road, Middlesbrough on Friday.
The activists said the building was neglected and dilapidated and should be renovated and put to good use for various activities like a clothing bank, advice centre, creche and bookshop.
Cleveland Police were called and the anarchists and socialists agreed to leave after Cleveland Trades Council representatives agreed to meet with them to discuss how the building could be better used.
A statement by Teesside Anarchist Network said: “Direct action gets the goods.”
Bob Stephenson, secretary of Cleveland Trades Council, said:
“Those people do not have any connection with us or our centre. They said they were trying to support us but their actions have done more harm than good. They gained access by booking a room under an other name.”
As the election looms ever closer another political row has broken out – with the Middlesbrough Labour Party now reported to both the police and the Electoral Commission.
Three Labour councillor candidates – including the leader of Middlesbrough Labour Party Charlie Rooney – have been reported for the alleged publishing of a false statement about Independent mayoral candidate Andy Preston.
Mr Preston has been reported to the police and Electoral Commission regarding putting his parents’ Middlesbrough address on his nomination form.
The latest complaints regard Labour councillor candidates for Longlands and Beechwood Charlie Rooney, Jacinta Skipp and Theresa Higgins and a political leaflet that has been circulated across the Saltersgill area of Middlesbrough.
In it, they state that Mr Preston owns a piece of land on Saltersgill Avenue – the former Gospel Hall site – that they describe as “disgraceful”, suggesting that this shows he treats communities with “utter disdain” and claim that Labour candidate Dave Budd is the best man to be the town’s mayor.
Mr Preston said he has not owned the land since last year.
Cllr Rooney said they have issued a retraction leaflet clarifying Mr Preston no longer owns the land but did so at the time of the complaints to Middlesbrough Council.
The police complaint refers to Electoral Commission guidance stating that “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”
Under the Representation of the People Act 1983, there are criminal penalties in place for those convicted of making or publishing false statements about election candidates.
Mr Preston said:
“This is getting ridiculous. The smear campaign against me has gone beyond stupid now and I’m getting really angry.
“This is just the latest grubby little instalment of the ongoing campaign to undermine me.
“My genuine advice to all the other candidates is to take a deep breath, come up with some decent ideas for the town and start talking to voters. Basically, they should stop slagging me off and focus on their own campaigns.”
Regarding the police complaint, Mr Preston added:
“A quick internet search would have revealed that I am not the owner of the land, nor have I been for some time.
“The statement that I own the land was not only false but deliberately designed to cost me votes and impact the outcome of the mayoral election – perhaps it already has.
“At a time when I have faced ridiculous and puerile allegations about minor paperwork anomalies, it’s important that this rather more serious matter should be looked into by the police.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said:
“We received an allegation of electoral malpractice. Any information provided to us will be assessed to see what, if any, offence has been committed.”
A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it was a criminal matter and would have advised the complainant to report it to the police.
A Labour Party spokesperson said:
“Mr Preston has complained about comments made concerning the state of land on Saltersgill Avenue.
“We have put out a leaflet in the area affected by these repeated blights, providing residents with clear and accurate information.
“We all want a better environment and that means everyone taking responsibility for it. This means businesses, the council and individuals taking responsibility for the properties and land they own and carrying out proper maintenance and not letting the area be spoiled for everyone else.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 Apr 2015
Police have been left red-faced after breaking down the door of the wrong home during an early-morning raid – leaving a handwritten note to apologise.
The botched operation, which took place at 7.30am on Wednesday, saw eight officers from the North East of England and Edinburgh storm a flat in Pennywell Road, in the Scottish capital, after the family there left for work.
But after drilling a hole in the front door to remove the lock and force entry into the home, it quickly became apparent that they had mixed up names and targeted the wrong person.
Incredibly, it is the second time confused officers have wrongly linked the family to a serious assault in the North East of England.
Mr McPhail, 52, said:
“It’s like the Keystone Cops. They were apparently there for four hours trying to gain entry.
“It’s ridiculous that they have time to do this. I told them, ‘Next time you fancy a jolly in Edinburgh go and see the Castle and leave my flat alone’.
“Is this how they do policing now?
“I’m not going to let this lie. I’m going to have to make a complaint. My son is going to have to because he has his career to worry about.
“I’m really sorry for the person who was assaulted, but that doesn’t justify them coming up and doing this.
“All I want is my door back to how it was – it’s all scratched and battered.
“I just want people to realise that you can be completely law abiding and go about your life, but there’s nothing to stop the police coming in your house anyway.”
After the unsuccessful operation, embarrassed officers left a handwritten note in the McPhails’ living room asking them to “please accept our sincere apologies for this inconvenience”.
The letter also listed telephone numbers to contact if the family wished to make a claim for the damage inflicted on their door.
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said:
“The officers acted upon the information that was available to them at the time. It wasn’t made apparent until today that the person at the address was unconnected to the investigation.
“Police officers from the Edinburgh area attended the address to support Cleveland officers who were carrying out the warrant.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 04 Apr 2015
A trade union has accused police of carrying out a “witch hunt” in connection with a long-running dispute over the building of a Teesside power plant.
The GMB union claims its members were “targeted for questioning” and a member was visited by police at their home.
The criticism of Cleveland Police’s actions is linked to the union’s ongoing row with Sita Sembcorp over the levels of foreign workers used to build a £250m energy plant at Wilton.
The GMB union is seeking to know how the force learned the names and private mobile telephone numbers of union members.
It has also asked why a member was visited by officers at their home last Sunday to be questioned about a protest held at the Wilton industrial site on Monday.
Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer, said:
“The Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger needs to ask the police to answer some basic questions on this activity by the Cleveland Police on this protest over discrimination by Sita SembCorp against Teesside workers.
“We need to know who instigated this witch hunt, why were unemployed construction workers targeted for questioning, how the police got their names and private mobile telephone numbers and home addresses.
“Above all we need to know why Cleveland Police devote resources to targeting peaceful trade union protest rather than fighting criminal activity in the area.”
In response, Chief Superintendent Adrian Roberts of Cleveland Police said:
“Officers were made aware of a number of posts on an open social media profile, which discussed protests planned at the Wilton site on the morning of Monday, February 23, and that this would potentially involve large numbers of protesters congregating at the entry and exit gates to the site.
“Police identified that the protest would coincide with rush hour and due to existing road works on the A174, that there would be substantial congestion.
“Public safety is paramount and with a site of this nature, there was an absolute need to ensure the ability of emergency service vehicles to enter and leave the site in the event of an emergency.
“In line with national best practice, officers from Cleveland Police openly sought to identify and engage with the organisers in advance, to explain the role of the force and open a dialogue to ensure the protest went ahead peacefully, lawfully and safely.
“This involved contact with one of the trade unions who were known to be connected to the dispute. They indicated that they were aware of the individual who appeared from social media to be organising the protest but that the protest had nothing to do with them.
“In order to establish a working dialogue with protesters, officers made direct contact with an individual via telephone, but having generated no response, the person was visited at his home address by an officer.
“There was no suggestion whatsoever that the right to protest would be improperly impeded, however, the individual was unforthcoming. To be clear the police had no knowledge of any current affiliation between this individual and the GMB trades union.
“As in all situations of this type, Cleveland Police’s role was to objectively and impartially balance the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest with the rights of affected businesses and members of the public to go about their lawful activities.
“Cleveland Police would very much welcome the engagement of GMB or any other trades union involved in the planning of any future protests, and would invite contact.”
Also responding to the comments, Cleveland Police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger said:
“I have not received any correspondence or complaint from the GMB or any other individual or organisation with regard to the matters reported in the local media.
“If I do receive such correspondence I will act appropriately.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 26 Feb 2015
Northumbria Police saw the highest rise in complaints of any force in the country, official figures have revealed.
A total of 794 complaints were made against Northumbria Police, which had 5,871 employees in 2013/2014, representing a 98 per cent rise in 2013/14, compared to an increase of 15 per cent for England and Wales, statistics issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show.
The total number of complaints against Durham Constabulary rose 26 per cent to 303, while over the same period complaints against North Yorkshire Police rose 15 per cent to 544.
Cleveland Police saw the number of complaints it received drop by six per cent to 454 last year.
A spokesman for the IPCC said:
“Some of the increase in 2013/14 is down to the definition of a complaint being broadened beyond an officer’s conduct to include direction and control matters to do with operational policing.”
A complainant has the right to appeal about the way in which a police force has handled their complaint.
Just one in 20 of appeals from the public against Durham Constabulary were upheld by the force IPCC, compared with a 46 per cent of those considered by the IPCC.
> As one comment to this story said: “What on earth was someone with this kind of attitude doing with guns in the first place? Don’t the police investigate fully the background of applicants before allowing a licence ?”
Police have seized a number of guns from the North-East man who posted a decapitated fox head on his Facebook page.
His actions sparked fury amongst animal lovers who set up a page demanding to have him kicked off the social media site.
They also called on the police and RSPCA to investigate the incident.
The man lives in the Hartlepool area and a Cleveland Police spokeswoman said that their enquiries are continuing.
She added: “Officers have seized a number of legally-held firearms from a 44-year-old male and we are looking into his suitability to continue as a firearms licence holder.”
The RSCPA is also looking in to the matter.
The grisly photograph posted online this week showed a fox’s bloody head impaled on a spike, along with an offensive message aimed at anti-hunt protestors.
It was apparently posted in response to anti-hunt campaigners and others who had complained about previous photographs of dead animals uploaded to Facebook by the man.
The group set up calling for him to be banned from the social networking site attracted more than 4,500 supporters in a matter of days.
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Jan 2015
> More balanced debate from the pro-hunting lobby….
Police and RSPCA officers are looking into reports that a fox was beheaded and a picture posted on Facebook in a dispute with anti-hunt campaigners.
The page then carried a chilling threat over any future attempts to have the user banned from the social networking site, declaring: “Any more bans and another fox dies.”
The distressing photograph appeared to show the decapitated head of the animal on a spike with a anti-hunt sign next to it.
It was uploaded on an individual account in the Hartlepool area.
Above the image was the statement: “I keep my promises, 1 ban = 1 fox.”
Anti-hunt campaigners then took to Facebook claiming the sick act was carried out in revenge for the user being banned from Facebook for previous posts which they believed were offensive.
The user then declared that for each Facebook ban he received he would kill one fox.
Another posting from this account read: “I’m back!”
“After three picture bans and the whole profile deleted due to an anti reporting that I’m a “business”?
“So antis, you have cost a fox that was not near a farm or any livestock it’s life. Just for you.
“Any more bans and another fox dies.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said: “We can say that we are aware of the post on Facebook and we are looking into whether any offences have been committed.”
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA confirmed that the image had been reported to the organisation.
She said: “We have received reports of images of a decapitated fox being circulated online.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 15 Jan 2015
Further cuts to policing budgets risks further jeopardising public safety, a Teesside MP told Parliament.
Despite assurances from the Prime Minister in 2010 that frontline policing would not be affected, some 8,000 police officers have already been lost from the frontline, said Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North.
Last month Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Barry Coppinger, confirmed that further cuts to the Police Grant Settlement will mean a reduction in local police funding of over £4.5m, warning it will place further pressure on an already stretched force.
Mr Coppinger called for the public and local MPs “to speak out about how far they are willing to let ministers go in juggling with public safety”.
During Parliamentary Questions to the Home Office in the House of Commons, Alex said:
“There has been a net loss of 293 police officers from the Cleveland police service since 2010, and our police commissioner says that the budget has been cut by another 5.1%, which could further jeopardise public safety.
“Does the Home Secretary agree that such losses and cuts are the reasons behind the drop in confidence in policing for the first time in a decade?”
But the Stockton MP said the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims was “unable to explain away this loss of confidence” – and sought instead to highlight the admirable manner in which Cleveland Police has dealt with cuts that will see the force £35m worse off than in 2010/11.
Speaking after the question session, Alex said:
“Despite already facing savage cuts, police forces around the country have been told to prepare for more of the same during the next Parliament.
“It is extremely worrying that the Association of Chief Police Officers is estimating that a further 6,000 frontline officers will need to be cut to meet budget reductions between 2015-17.
“Even more alarmingly, I understand that the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police has written to the Home Secretary warning that current funding arrangements will result in his force becoming unsustainable by 2019 and identifying a real risk that his may be the first force to fall.
“I am in no doubt further cutting of policing budgets will further decimate our police forces and place even more pressure on a service already under-resourced and overstretched.”
The MP said with similar cuts to local government services, police officers will be expected to do more with less – “an unrealistic proposition”.
“While Cleveland Police deserve praise for innovative collaboration with partner organisations in managing funding reductions to date, there is only a finite amount of pressure they can shoulder before the cracks start to emerge and these further cuts may breach that tipping point.”
Source – Midlesbrough Evening Gazette, 07 Jan 2015