'Big Brother' criticism of operation

By Richard Wright

Monday, December 3, 2012

 

AN OPERATION to tackle benefit fraud has been criticised for "Big Brother" intrusion.

The Isle of Wight Labour Party has voiced concern following last week’s police-led Operation Evening Light "ring of steel" operation, which targeted bad-driving.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Isle of Wight Council benefit fraud investigators questioned some of those stopped about benefit issues.

Last week the Isle of Wight Council apologised if people felt inconvenienced or objected to the approach, but highlighted the huge drain on the public purse caused by benefit fraud. Police said most people who were stopped were supportive and appreciated the need for the operation.

Today (Monday) however, the Isle of Wight Labour Party said law-abiding Islanders were interrupted in their daily lives and quizzed about their National Insurance numbers, who their employers were and who they lived with "in a seemingly random attempt to crackdown on benefit fraud."

Isle of Wight Labour Party chairman Deborah Gardiner said: "While Labour Party members naturally disapprove of benefit fraud, the police seem to have issued an entirely inappropriate invitation to the agencies who deal with this fraud to join in a motoring operation and to interrogate innocent people about their private lives.

"It certainly smacks of Big Brother and I particularly find the participation of the Isle of Wight Council disgraceful.

"We will be seeking an explanation for the invitation to these agencies from the local police Chief Inspector, for comment from the new Police Commissioner, and asking the Island's MP to condemn this intrusion into Islanders civil liberties."

Twenty-five benefit fraud investigations were sparked by the operation and dozens of motoring offences resulted from 240 drivers being stopped.

Isle of Wight Council director for resources Dave Burbage said: "The council treats benefit fraud seriously as it is a type of theft that takes money away from people who are in most need of support and impacts on the local tax payer."

The joint crackdown was led by Ch Insp Nick Heelan. He said: "This sort of operation is done elsewhere in the country all the time with partner agencies working together.

"The main focus was preventing the toll of death and serious injury on Island roads."

Reporter: richardw@iwcpmail.co.uk

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