The recent foiled terror plot in Birmingham has re-opened the debate regarding the need for CCTV surveillance in three predominantly Muslim areas of the City covered by the highly-controversial Project Champion.
A Birmingham MP, Khalid Mahmood, has called for the project to be reinstated, saying details that emerged from a failed suicide plot in the Second City proved the value of the scheme.
The £3 million Project Champion saw a total of 218 cameras installed in the Birmingham areas of Sparkhill, Washwood Heath and Moseley. This included 64 covert cameras and a mixture of CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras to monitor both people and vehicles travelling through the predominantly Muslim areas of the city.
A public backlash regarding the lack of consultation with the community led to the cameras never being switched on before their shelving. They were taken down, the infrastructure removed – at an estimated cost of around £600,000 – and some of the CCTV cameras were reportedly sold off for as little as £1.
An independent report into Project Champion was highly critical of both the police and the scheme overall, with the West Midlands Police Authority forced to apologise and admit mistakes were made.
The trial of three would-be suicide bombers from Birmingham has now thrust the issue of surveillance within the city back into the spotlight. The three ringleaders plotted a failed terror plot in Sparkhill that had ambitions of rivalling the July 7 bombings in London.
Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, were convicted of plotting to carry out terror attacks in the UK at Woolwich Crown Court last week, while six other men had already pleaded guilty to being involved in the potential bombings. Cell leader Naseer, from Sparkhill, and Khalid, from Sparkbrook, were also found guilty of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
The gang had targeted landmarks within Birmingham – such as the Bullring shopping centre, Selfridge’s department store and the main New Street train station – with bomb and gun attacks to cause mass casualties and panic. Police claimed it was the most significant terror plot uncovered since 2006, with Khalid caught on undercover recording boasting their attack would be “another 9/11”.
Following the trial, Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, came out and said he thought the foiled suicide bomb plot showed a need for the reinstatement of spy cameras in the areas and his opinion that the issue of security should be given precedence over public outcry.
“I think the scheme should be revived,” he told the Birmingham Mail. “Various politicians and community groups jumped on the bandwagon when this became a big issue a few years ago.
“But the reality is that there has been a huge number of arrests and convictions in these particular areas of the city. I don’t see why this scheme should not be revived”.
He added: “These are difficult times that we live in and that requires taking some difficult decisions. We needed to stand up on this issue instead of just switching into some sort of political correct mode.
‘‘They (the cameras) would have helped the security services enormously, particularly in the suicide bomb plot we have been hearing about.
“I now want to see a replacement.”
Anti-CCTV campaigners have hit back at Mahmood’s calls for the return of the cameras and predict any re-introduction of a scheme similar to Project Champion is unnecessary and would have further negative effects on the already harmed relationship between the police and Muslim communities within Birmingham.
Steve Jolly, a Moseley resident who led a high-profile campaign against the cameras, told SecurityNewsDesk that Project Champion “demonstrated that surveillance cameras can and do harm, damage and fracture communities”.
“The attempt by West Midlands Police to install a permanent network of spy cameras in two residential communities in Birmingham was unlawful and divisive and all but destroyed trust in the police and the security services,” he said.
“The national controversy caused by this unprecedented surveillance operation quite rightly challenged the notion that public support and consent for surveillance is universal and given without question.”
Discussing the MP’s call for the cameras to return, he added: “Neither the police nor the community support their re-introduction and the likelihood of that happening is zero. We are discussing the shameless and shallow political posturing of an MP who wants to appear tough on crime and terrorism, which is par for the course for anyone wanting to get on in politics.”
Charles Farrier, co-founder of the campaign group No CCTV, said: “The Project Champion spy cameras were scrapped after a public outcry and several investigations into the way in which they were introduced.
“The police acknowledged that Project Champion had set back community relations by almost 10 years.
“To call for the return of such a universally condemned scheme following a case that demonstrates that the cameras were not needed by the police is absurd.”
Andrew Rennison, the UK’s newly-appointed CCTV commissioner, expressed his concerns about Project Champion in an interview to be published in CCTV Image magazine next week.
“There was a lack of transparency [around Project Champion],” he said. “What I’m arguing [with surveillance by consent] is that if they had been open and transparent from the start, the residents of those areas would have had a right to object to the cameras from the beginning.”
What do you think? In light of the demonstrable terror plots originating from these areas of Birmingham, was it right to shut down Project Champion?