Tagged: Redcar and Cleveland council

Former Redcar Labour councillors call on Ed Miliband to launch investigation

Former Labour councillors today called on Ed Miliband to investigate after a bitter row in the Redcar party led to the departure of a number of high-profile members.

Former Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning headed a demonstration in Redcar asking for a full investigation into the party’s “flawed selection process”.

The call came ahead of the Labour leader’s question and answer session at Redcar and Cleveland College.

Mr Dunning’s deselection followed those of Redcar and Cleveland Council cabinet members Steve Goldswain (Eston) and Norman Pickthall (Teesville), the chair of Cleveland Fire Authority, Cllr Brian Briggs (Skelton) and Cllr Olywn Peters (Eston).

The deselections meant Mr Dunning and his colleagues could not stand for Labour in May’s elections and followed claims of bullying and harassment in the local party.

Mr Dunning, who has since quit the party, said:

“I was and still am the longest serving leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council.

“But I was deselected due to the influence of a group within the party who have never been voted for by the public.

“Everybody knows the selection process is flawed from start to finish.

“I’m absolutely appalled by the Labour Party. I’m nearly 65 and this is the first time ever I will not be voting for Labour. It is not a democratic party anymore and it no longer represents the working class.

“I’ve asked the question, will Ed Miliband carry out a full investigation into Labour Party North’s deeply flawed selection process?”

The deselections have seen Labour lose control of Redcar & Cleveland Council.

> Which seems a weird thing to do just before elections….

The upheaval in the Redcar and Cleveland Labour group follows a similar row in the Middlesbrough party last year.

Five councillors were deselected following interviews, and although Cllr Derek Loughborough won an appeal against the decision, he quit the party along with Cllrs Len Junier, Pervaz Khan, Sajaad Khan and John McPartland.

In a statement issued at the time of the deselections, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, said it was “time for change”.

Leader George Dunning and deputy leader Sheelagh Clarke have served Redcar and Cleveland with great commitment and have a lot to be proud of,” the statement said.

“However, local Labour Party members have today voted to replace them with other candidates for the ward of Teesville. We have a wealth of talent in the Labour Party and the bar has been set very high this year.

“The people of Redcar and Cleveland deserve the very best representation that the Labour party has to offer in the local community and members have chosen some fantastic local candidates. It is time for change. We are building a fresh, exciting and committed new team.”

The statement was released in the names of Mr Blenkinsop, Ms Turley and John McCormick, chair of Redcar and Cleveland Local Campaign Forum, Neil Bendelow, chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party and Bill Suthers, chair of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour Party.

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 06 Mar 2015

Green could be the new red in Redcar

The leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council has hinted that he could stand as a Green Party candidate after being deselected by the Labour party.

Councillor George Dunning, who expects to be removed as leader on Thursday, was one of ten Labour members who last week tore up their party card outside the office of the party’s would-be Redcar MP, Anna Turley.

The veteran Labour councillor was not selected, alongside his deputy Sheelagh Clarke and several members of his cabinet committee, by the party to fight in May’s council election.

Now he said he could stand as an Independent councillor but says several of the members have been approached by the Green Party.

Mr Dunning said:

“I expect to be thrown out as council leader as the Lib Dems move a motion of no confidence in me for a second time, the last time was September 2013. I expect that following Thursday’s council meeting I won’t be the council leader after being the longest serving Redcar and Cleveland Council leader. Options for me, and the other former Labour councillors, will then be considered.”

The news comes as a leading union official announced that he would be standing for the Green Party in the Redcar constituency.

Confirming his selection as the Green Party candidate, Peter Pinkney, the president of the RMT union, said:
“I spoke at the Green Party Conference in 2013, and I was impressed with the ideas that were being put forward. The ideas of the Greens resonated with a lot of my beliefs.

“Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.

“As a life-long socialist, I could see that most of the policies were what the Labour Party once had, but those days are long gone with Labour.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  09 Feb 2015

Redcar and Cleveland Council deputy mayor is latest to resign from Labour party

The deputy mayor of Redcar and Cleveland Council is the latest to resign from the Labour party after a week of turmoil at the authority.

Ten Labour councillors resigned their membership last week after council leader George Dunning, deputy Sheelagh Clarke and members of the authority’s cabinet were told by Labour that they had not been selected to stand again for their party in May’s elections.

Now Doreen Rudland, who represents the Brotton ward, has confirmed she is the 11th current councillor to leave the party.

She said: “I think it is disgraceful what has happened to those councillors who were deselected by the party.

“Ten councillors resigned last week – and I am supporting them.”

Cllr Rudland, 77, is the authority’s deputy mayor and was elected at a by-election in Brotton more than four years ago.

She confirmed  that she was not planning on standing in the May elections.

“I had already taken that decision, I did not want to stand because of my age.

“I have enjoyed being a councillor, and I have particularly enjoyed my time as deputy mayor.”

On Sunday, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Constituency Labour Party selected its candidates to stand in May’s election.

Current Labour cabinet members Joan Guy and Helen McLuckie were selected to stand again in their Saltburn and Skelton wards, the local party confirmed.

The ten councillors who resigned from the party at a protest outside Milbank Terrace office of Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley last week were: George Dunning (Teesville), Sheelagh Clarke (Teesville) Steve Goldswain (Eston), Olwyn Peters (Eston), Norman Pickthall (Teesville), Mark Hannon (Kirkleatham), Vic Jeffries (Marske), Brian Briggs (Skelton), Carole Simms (Normanby) and Wendy Wall (Normanby).

A vote of no confidence in leader George Dunning has been tabled by the council’s Liberal Democrat group for Thursday’s meeting of the full council.

In the wake of the row, Councillors Steve Goldswain and Olwyn Peters spoke out about alleged bullying in the local party, while the chairman of the Redcar constituency party Neil Bendelow confirmed that Cllr Vic Jeffries had made a formal complaint about bullying.

Cllr Dunning said that the resignations came after a long-running internal dispute in the Labour Party between council leadership, and the offices of Ms Turley and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop.

After Councillors Dunning, Clarke, Hannon and Jeffries joined Steve Goldswain, Brian Briggs and Norman Pickthall in being deselcted by the party, Mr Blenkinsop said that “he wasn’t part of the selection process”.

Ms Turley said in a statement:

“I am sad that the councillors and members who didn’t get selected don’t feel they can continue to be part of the Labour movement without being paid councillors, but the party cannot be held to ransom.

“There were simply other candidates who won their elections and they deserve their opportunity to serve their local communities.”

In response to Mrs Rudland’s announcement, Labour repeated its statement made in the wake of the other resignations that it was “disappointing but unsurprising”.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 09 Feb 2015

Redcar : Council leader tears up Labour Party membership card as bitter internal dispute continues

The future of a Teesside council has been left in disarray after its Labour leader and other cabinet members resigned from the party.

Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning, his deputy Sheelagh Clarke, the mayor, cabinet members and other senior councillors resigned this morning.

The move is the latest development in a bitter internal Labour dispute and comes after the councillors were not selected by the party in their seats in May’s council elections.

Ten councillors – including more than half of those on the council’s cabinet – staged a public protest outside the Redcar office of Anna Turley, Labour’s candidate for the Redcar seat in the General Election.

An informal meeting is taking place today in which the group will speak to cabinet members still in the Labour Party, and also approach independents to debate how the council can continue to function.

The most pressing issue is the need to pass a budget before the end of March, which includes a vital decision on whether to raise council tax.

But the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Council have now confirmed that they will table a motion at next Thursday’s full council meeting calling for Cllr Dunning to stand down as leader.

Speaking at the protest in Redcar, Cllr Dunning said Redcar and Cleveland residents have “nothing to worry about”.

Cllr Norman Pickthall, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “The direction of travel is that we will agree the budget, with a 0% council tax rise.

“All the work has been done. Other councillors would be foolish to reject it.”

Asked if he thought Labour would again win control of the council in May, Cllr Pickthall said: “I don’t think so. Not if the councillor who wants to become leader succeeds.”

Cllr Dunning said that South Bank councillor Sue Jeffrey wanted to become leader of the council’s Labour group.

The ten councillors who resigned from the party were Steve Goldswain (Eston), Olwyn Peters (Eston), Norman Pickthall (Teesville), Mark Hannon (Kirkleatham), Vic Jeffries (Marske), Brian Briggs (Skelton), Carole Simms (Normanby) and Wendy Wall (Normanby).

Their total membership in the party spans 230 years.

Cllrs Goldswain, Briggs and Pickthall were deselected as Labour councillors in November.

Cllrs Dunning, Clarke, Hannon and Jeffries were deselected at a meeting on Sunday, the culmination of a rift the council leader says exists between the leadership and Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Anna Turley, and councillors Joe Keenan and Dale Quigley, who work in Mr Blenkinsop’s office.

Mr Blenkinsop said earlier this week that “he wasn’t part of the selection process”.

Ms Turley said in a statement today:

“I am sad that the councillors and members who didn’t get selected don’t feel they can continue to be part of the Labour movement without being paid councillors, but the party cannot be held to ransom.

“There were simply other candidates who won their elections and they deserve their opportunity to serve their local communities.”

Ms Turley was out campaigning when the councillors staged their protest at her Milbank Terrace office.

A Labour Party statement said the decision was “disappointing but unsurprising”.

It read:

“The selection process in Redcar &; Cleveland has been fair, robust and competitive. The Labour Party expects the highest standards from our councillors and council candidates. These expectations include that a candidate demonstrates a willingness to campaign in their community all year round.

“The selection process is still ongoing but local members have begun to choose a new team of candidates drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including a postman, a steel worker, a cobbler, a barmaid, and a netball coach.”

Cllr Sheelagh Clarke has now called for an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying, and the selection process which saw senior Labour members rejected by their party.

Cllr Peters said she had suffered a nervous breakdown because of bullying – and that she supported the deselected councillors who she said “represented what Labour is all about”.

Cllr Goldswain has also complained about bullying.

Chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, Neil Bendelow,  claimed  earlier this week that there had been “no complaints” about bullying.

However, Cllr Vic Jeffries said he had made an official complaint around three weeks ago – which had been acknowledged.

Mr Bendelow said: “We had no complaints from those councillors who have spoken about the issue in the press. But we have had a complaint from Cllr Jeffries – the first I have ever had to deal with – and it will be dealt with by Labour Party process.”

Speaking after ripping up his 30-year Labour Party membership this morning, former mayor Cllr Jeffries said: “It is a very, very sad day.

“I am weighing my options up. I am a socialist and I believe in fairness, transparency and truth.”

Cllr Brian Briggs said: “I used to help my father with party business when I was a boy. I am Labour through and through. It is with a very heavy heart that I resign my membership.”

Independent mayoral candidate for Middlesbrough Len Junier, and fellow Middlesbrough councillors Pervaz Khan, John McPartland and Derek Loughborough supported their Redcar and Cleveland counterparts at the protest.

All but Cllr Loughborough were deselected by Middlesbrough Labour Group last year.

Cllr Junier said: “I think that this shows that party politics on Teesside is in terminal decline.

“It is the rise of the Independents. I hope we see a repeat across Teesside.”

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Feb 2015

‘It’s been a cull’: Redcar councillors react to being deselected as Labour candidates

The deselected deputy leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council Sheelagh Clarke has called the process “undemocratic” – and claims “somebody in London wants rid”.

Council Leader George Dunning, along with deputy Cllr Clarke, cabinet member Mark Hannon and former mayor Vic Jefferies were told at a meeting at the Claxton Hotel in Redcar on Sunday that they would not be allowed to stand for Labour in their wards in May’s elections.

It immediately raises questions about how the authority will run on a day-to-day basis – coming as it does after a further four Labour councillors were deselected last year.

But Cllrs Dunning and Clarke say they remain “as committed as ever”.

 

How the leader and deputy responded

“There is a budget for us to get through, and we’re proposing to keep council tax frozen again and do what’s right for the people of this borough,” said the leader.

“We’ve done a hell of a lot of work since taking the council back in 2007 – which a lot of people in our party didn’t even think we would do.

“As far as we’re concerned, unless there’s a vote of no confidence, Sheelagh and I will continue to run the council.”

Cllr Dunning insists he is the victim of a “power struggle” within the Labour Party and that the office of Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop “wants to run the council, and we won’t let them”.

“A lot of members in Teesville are getting on, or have been ill,” the leader continued.

“I wasn’t going to round people up on a cold day and tell them they had to come and vote for us, but I know we had the support.

“This has been a struggle for years.

“There have been people in this party who wanted to be leader, who wanted to be on the cabinet, and they are paranoid and power-mad.”

‘It’s not democratic’

Cllr Dunning has survived tests of his leadership in the past – both from within his own party and from the Liberal Democrat opposition.

And Cllr Clarke said:

“I do not think it is a democratic process. If the people of my ward had voted me out, I would fully accept that.

“But those people have been denied a chance, because somebody from the Labour Party in London wants rid of us.”

Meanwhile, cabinet member Mark Hannon blamed the fall-out on a rift between senior councillors and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, and councillors working in their offices.

Candidates are chosen by local Labour party members in each ward, but if not enough members show up, as was the case on Sunday, the party’s local executive steps in to vote.

And Cllr Hannon, cabinet member for economic development, said: “I went and did a ten minute presentation at my interview, I answered questions for ten minutes, and I know I did the best presentation.

“The other candidates weren’t in there for anywhere near as long as me.

“I am popular with people in Redcar.

“Since I’ve been a councillor, we’ve got a new hospital in my Kirkleatham ward, housing, a new shopping centre.

“That doesn’t matter though. It’s been a cull of senior councillors.”

‘Labour just want to keep people on benefits’

“The Labour Party doesn’t care about the working classes any more.

“They just want to keep people on benefits and feather their own nests.”

“Against a backdrop of austerity, we have totally regenerated Redcar.

“We’ve not only kept leisure centres open, but we’ve built a new one, we’ve kept libraries open – and we’ve tried to keep council tax down.”

Cllr Hannon alluded to bullying within the party – which led cabinet member Olwyn Peters to claim she had suffered a breakdown.

This comes two-and-a-half years after Labour North’s Wallis Report claimed the Redcar and Cleveland Labour Group was “dysfunctional”.

What the MPs said

In a joint statement, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, thanked Cllrs Dunning and Clarke for their service but said it was “time for change”.

Mr Blenkinsop said:

“All candidates knew exactly what to expect, and the bar has been set very high in these elections.

“If deselected councillors were not told about the reasons for deselection, they’re not asking the right questions. Selection is a democratic process.

“The Labour Party is not looking for candidates that take support for the party for granted, or for anyone who is complacent. Candidates need to get out and talk to people to find out what they want.

“But I wasn’t part of the selection process for these councillors, so I don’t know what the reasons were.”

 

‘If Labour group can’t manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?’

Glyn Nightingale, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said the possibility of launching another ‘no confidence’ vote would “be a matter for group members to discuss”.

“If the Labour group cannot manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?” he added.

“I do not agree with what George Dunning and his administration have done in office, but I acknowledge that they have been working hard.

“It was up to the people at the ballot box to replace them – not an internal party manipulation.”

‘I totally do not accept any form of bullying’

Neil Bendelow, the chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, said that all members had been treated equally.

“The way that candidates were selected follows the Labour Party process and would be the same anywhere,” he added.

“All councillors were asked the same type of questions, and were allowed to give a ten minute presentation and answer questions for ten minutes.

“We have some fanstastic candidates who are going to work tirelessly for their wards.”

Last year, Cllrs Brian Briggs, Steve Goldswain, Norman Pickthall and Brian Hogg were also deselected.

But Mr Bendelow added: “I totally do not accept any form of bullying whatsoever.

“There is a process for anyone to follow if they feel they are being bullied, and I have received no complaints and no shred of evidence has been given to us.”

What the future holds

Cllrs Dunning, Clarke and Hannon were told that they could possibly stand for Labour in other wards – but say they were not given reasons for their deselection.

Cllrs Dunning and Clarke said that at this point, they would not consider standing as independent councillors.

Cllr Dunning said that Bob Norton, Rob Hodgson, and Geraldine Williams will now stand for Labour in the Teesville ward.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 Feb 2015

Bailiffs tell Acklam couple they owe £3,500 on Christmas Eve – but they had wrong address

A couple received a “shocking and distressing” extra Christmas present – a visit from the bailiffs – who later admitted they got the wrong address.

Paul and Kath Spenceley, from Middlesbrough, said bailiffs “bashed at their door” on Christmas Eve while they were out before leaving a note asking for £3,500.

The couple, of Endsleigh Drive, Acklam, said they were left confused and upset by the letter – before realising it wasn’t meant for them.

Mrs Spenceley, 51, an executive assistant for Redcar and Cleveland Council, said:

“The neighbours told me that they were bashing really hard on the door and making a scene.

“They then posted the note which was from the Sheriff’s Office.

“We were so confused when we read it. We have always paid our bills. We were so upset – it’s not nice to read that you owe £3,500 – especially on Christmas Eve. Then we realised they had the wrong address.”

Mrs Spenceley said she rang the office and left messages but never heard anything back.

She said:

“I am worried they haven’t realised the error and they might come back again. Next time they could actually get inside and start taking things. I have been so panicked all over Christmas. How could they get something like that so wrong?”

Mrs Spenceley said she later took the letter to the house it was addressed to.

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office said:

“It was human error and we apologise for any distress caused. There wasn’t any bashing at the door. We knocked and then posted the letter.

“I received a message from the occupants telling us of the error and we advise that they put the letter in the bin.”

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 31 Dec 2014

North East Police and councils have been granted more than 22,000 warrants allowing them to intercept communications, including tapping phones

Police have used controversial anti-terror powers to fight crime across the North.

Thousands of ‘RIPA’ undercover warrants – which grant the power to trawl through telephone records – were used by Durham, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cleveland police.

The warrants, issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), entitle public bodies to intercept communications in a bid to expose crime and have been used by North East councils and other public bodies as well as the police.

Figures released by the government show 22,154 RIPA warrants were issued to police forces in the North in 2013 – with Durham police leading the way with 6,218 warrants.

Northumbria Police was granted 6,211, North Yorkshire police made 4058 successful applications, Cleveland received 2957 and the Cumbria force was granted 2,710.

RIPA was introduced as a weapon against terrorism and economic crime but its use has been criticised – with some likening it to the encroachment of a police state.

It requires only that the request be approved by a police officer of Superintendent rank or above, giving forces the right to sign off their own warrants without having to go before a judge.

Civil rights group Liberty hit out after the figures were revealed, with legal director James Welch saying RiIPA was “massively overused”.

Councils routinely use RIPA warrants for issues involving rogue traders and underage sale of alcohol and tobacco as well as taxi cab regulation and checking out businesses employing minors.

Police forces use them for more in-depth issues including the investigation of drug and paedophile rings, human trafficking and other forms of serious crimes.

Ripa was used by Cleveland police to snare a drugs gang which was jailed in May for 177 years, collectively.

Detectives were able to seize drugs worth £824,686 and £127,966 cash.

Codenamed Operation Cobweb, it was Cleveland police’s biggest ever drugs bust.

RIPA warrants issued up to March 2013 allowed officers to snare the 22-strong gang, with Middlesbrough’s top judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC praising police for their use of RIPA legislation.

York City Council and Redcar and Cleveland Council led the way for local authorities in the North, using the powers with 80 and 69 warrants granted respectively.

Redcar and Cleveland is host to the anti-fraud organisation Scambusters which the council said contributes to its high numbers.

Newcastle City Council was absent from the list while Northumberland County Council had just three warrants issued.

In August last year in Northumberland, warrants were used to track down through social media accounts an illegal 16-year-old tattoo artist. She was banned and her equipment was seized.

Warrants were also used to bust a phone scam that conned 400 residents across the UK after a Redcar pensioner was tricked into buying unnecessary anti-virus software.

Operation Hognose was launched when the pensioner told council officials he had fallen victim to what is known globally as the ‘Microsoft scam.’

Scammer Mohammed Khalid Jamil, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was handed a suspended jail sentence and £5,000 fine during a March 29 hearing at York Crown Court, after Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s trading standards passed the case to the National Trading Standards e-Crime Centre.

The conman was ordered to pay £13,929 costs as well as £5,665 in compensation to 41 victims.

The council said it had not used RIPA warrants to tap phones.

The police forces said they used the powers “only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe.”

James Welch, Legal Director of Liberty, hit criticised the figures and said the legislation is over used by forces across the UK.

He said:

“The police and other public bodies massively overuse their power to get information from our phone and internet service providers – over half a million times last year.

This overuse is hardly surprising when there’s no requirement for prior authorisation from a judge. You can work out a lot about a person from knowing who they phone or which internet sites they visit. People don’t realise how badly their privacy is compromised by this power.”

Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review into claims Ripa is being misused.

Police forces on RIPA powers

All of the police forces we contacted said they used RIPA powers only when necessary.

A spokeswoman for Northumbria police said they would be ‘unlikely’ to discuss their use of the measures.

Our ultimate aim is the safety of the public and this is one of many ways we can gather information to help deal with those people causing most harm in our communities.

“It’s important for the public to have confidence that such methods are appropriate and proportionate.

“The public can be reassured applications for RIPA authority are made only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe,” she said.

“RIPA authority is not entered into lightly and rigorous processes are in place leading to it being granted.

“They have to be absolutely satisfied that it is necessary to prevent and detect crime and that its level of intrusion is proportionate with the nature of the enquiry being carried out.

“Northumbria Police is inspected each year by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office to ensure correct procedures and processes are being followed.

“The number of authorisations made is comparable with our neighbouring forces and is part of a package of tools available to officers.”

Temporary Superintendent Rob O’Connor, of Cumbria police, said:

Cumbria Constabulary where necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or preventing disorder, will use the power given to them by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to obtain and disclose communications data and conduct surveillance. Police use of RIPA is subject to guidance and strict codes of practice.

“RIPA is a very useful investigative tool in order to prevent crime and disorder. The intelligence and evidence obtained enables us to make the correct decisions in terms of public safety and the prosecution of criminals. It has been used on many occasions to great effect to bring offenders to justice.

“Cumbria Constabulary’s use of RIPA is subject of oversight and regular inspections by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office and the Office of Surveillance Commissioner.”

Chief Superintendent Rob Coulson, of Durham Police, said:

“The powers RIPA provides are massively important to policing in our force area. RIPA is only used when absolutely necessary, how and when we use it is strictly governed.

“RIPA enables us to investigate serious crime and has played a key role in apprehending organised criminals and other serious offenders who have been making life miserable for the residents of County Durham and Darlington. There are many examples of this in the last year alone.

“Whilst Durham is generally a safe place to live we have to accept that these criminals exist and the powers provided through RIPA is a vital tool in the fight against them. We will continue to use the powers RIPA provides to follow, monitor, disrupt and capture offenders such as drug dealers, prolific thieves and sexual predators on a regular basis.

“In doing this can I reassure you that as a force we scrutinise our use of these powers and as with all Forces we are annually inspected by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, an independent body.”

A spokeswoman for Cleveland police said the force used RIPA powers to monitor serious organised crime and said the use of RIPA in Operation Cobweb was acknowledged by a judge as an excellent example of usage.

North Yorkshire Police did not comment.

Source –  Sunday Sun,  02 Nov 2014

Teesside councils owed more than £27m in unpaid tax

Middlesbrough Council has the highest arrears amount – £13m – but Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland councils also saw a rise in the amount they are owed.

All three authorities say the rise in tax arrears is down to Government changes to council tax benefit in 2013 – which led to people receiving higher bills, and some paying for the first time.

Middlesbrough’s Deputy Mayor and executive member for finance and governance, Councillor Dave Budd, said: “The remaining balance will continue to be actively pursued on an ongoing basis.

“Our approach does recognise the impact on vulnerable individuals and those in real hardship.

“It should be noted that nationally, with only a few exceptions, the map of where arrears are highest mirrors the map of high deprivation, greatest cuts to councils and the hardest impact of welfare reform.”

The rising arrears emerged from figures announced from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This month, The Gazette revealed that almost £9m in council tax went unclaimed in Teesside in 2012/13 – with Middlesbrough having one of the worst collection rates in the country at 93.4%.

The total arrears amount also takes into account unpaid taxes from previous years.

Households in Middlesbrough owe £214 each on average, one of the highest per dwelling amounts in England.

Cllr Budd said that benefit changes “must be taken into account” as Middlesbrough received a £2.6m reduction in Government funding last year, which saw 13,800 residents having to pay more tax – with 10,000 paying for the first time.

Council tax arrears are £5,092,000 in Stockton – a 25% increase on 2012/13 – with households owing £61 each on average across the borough.

Stockton Council’s cabinet member for corporate management and finance, Councillor David Harrington, said: “We collected more than 98% of all Council Tax in 2012/13 and in 2013/14 we collected 96.9%, which is still well above similar authorities.

“It is important to note that the sums quoted do not represent arrears accrued in a single year but those accrued over a number of years and that we continue to work hard to collect outstanding Council Tax amounts after the years in which they first fell due. These figures should also be viewed in the context of the current financial climate and the major changes the Government has made to the welfare system.”

The arrears figure in Redcar and Cleveland is just over £9m – an average of £144 per household.

Norman Pickthall, Redcar and Cleveland Council’s cabinet member for corporate resources, said that the council expected difficulties in collecting tax from those who are struggling, but still collected nearly 96% of council tax last year.

He continued: “Changes to the benefits system mean some people are paying council tax for the first time while others are struggling with dwindling household budgets.

“The council has a statutory duty to collect all debts and will take legal or recovery action as a last resort.

“However, the council will always try to help whenever possible and would urge anyone who is having problems paying their council tax to get in touch.”

Source – middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 July 2014