Thursday, 20 March 2014

"Detector vans": Worth the Risk, BBC?

This blogpost was originally going to be about an incident on 8 March 2014 in Stoke On Trent involving the deployment of a fabled “detector van”. However, while writing the original draft we realised that the deployment of these so called “detector vans” raised so many other issues at so many levels that we really had trouble knowing just where to begin and end.

TV Licensing Blog posted a very concise and informative blogpost about the incident so we feel no need to repeat it in our blog. So back to “detector vans”. No thanks to the BBC and its PR hangers on “detector vans” have become part of the urban mythology of the UK. So desperate are the BBC to keep the population of the UK in a permanent state of fear that it is still common for the local press to publish advertorials propagandising the “detector van” urban myth. These advertorials are placed by PR companies on behalf of the BBC doubtless in the hope that doing so maintains and even boosts tv licence sales. An interesting collation of information about “detector vans” is available courtesy of BBC TV Licence.

Headlines that begin “Detector vans catch . . . “ precede advertorials that are aimed at sanitising and making credible BBC surveillance activities that are politically and socially insanitary and considerably less than credible. Capita BBC TV Licensing™, trademark bastard corporate offspring of the BBC and Capita Business Services is the TV Licensing™ contractor which deploys “detector vans” for and on behalf of the BBC. Realising that its TV Licensing™ enforcement obligations are fantastically unpopular with the general public the BBC’s policy is to deliberately put as much distance between itself anything enforcement that is done in its name by its TV Licensing™ trademark. Hence the creation of both the trademark and Capita BBC TV Licensing™. Everything is kept conveniently remote. A model of “arms length management” and “hands off management”.

Until the deployment of the “detector van” involved in the unpleasant incident reported by TV Licensing Blog we did not realise fully just how “arms length” and “hands off” the whole nasty business of BBC surveillance and enforcement had become. Now given the surveillance activities that they are used for most people would quite rightly assume that surveillance vehicles such as “detector vans” would be registered with some corporate or official entity. Not so. The incident has revealed that the Registered Keepers of these “detector vans” is neither the BBC nor Capita BBC TV Licensing™ but local managers employed by Capita BBC TV Licensing™ and registered to their home addresses. Which, to any sensible person, raises some very interesting chain of command, authorisation and equipment testing and calibration issues relating to the deployment of “detector vans” and whether they have been approved and signed off by the Surveillance Commissioner’s office.

Until the deployment of the “detector van” involved in the unpleasant incident reported by TV Licensing Blog we did not consider in detail the full public safety and health and safety issues of the deployment of “detector vans” and what a real hazard and risk to the general public deployment of “detector vans” poses and will continue to pose for as long as they are deployed. The high speed chase on the public highway of the “detector van” concerned is not the first that has been reported and we will venture that it will not be the last. Usually it’s the enforcement vehicle in pursuit of the alleged criminal. In this case it was the alleged “criminal” in pursuit of the “detector van” enforcement vehicle. The irony of that reversal is not lost on us and we suppose will not be lost on people who read this.

While not seeking to excuse the Legal Occupier who was in pursuit, the aggressive driving and risk taking by the driver of the “detector van” was well beyond any health and safety risk parameters. The following took place on the public highway; weaving the “detector van”, crossing the central white line, using the “detector van” as a moving obstacle, overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic, forcing oncoming drivers to take avoiding action, using the size of the “detector van” to intimidate an oncoming driver to make a hazardous reverse manoeuvre on a narrow country lane, using the “detector van” to inflict damage to the pursuing vehicle and finally leaving the scene of the collision without exchanging details with the other driver. If any of that is permitted and published in TV Licensing™ Visiting Procedures manual we would be obliged if someone from the BBC would be so kind as to point it out to us because we cannot find it.

Please bear in mind that this “detector van” parked outside someone’s home, deployed what the Legal Occupier believed was a wide lens camera, the driver took flight and drove off when confronted by the video camera equipped Legal Occupier, the Legal Occupier gave chase, the driver of the “detector van” decided to prolong the chase. The sum of which in the mind of any right thinking person raises very serious issues relating to the motor vehicle and public liability insurances taken out by Capita BBC TV Licensing™ and whether any claims arising from the risk taking driving behaviour of the “detector van” driver would have been honoured and indemnified by the insurers had innocent members of the public been killed, injured and had property damaged as a consequence of this incident. Luckily, on this occasion it was merely bent metal and broken plastic confined only to the vehicles involved. Alternatives involving death and injury of innocent bystanders just do not bear thinking about; . . . and for what?

Forget about what Capita BBC TV Licensing™ are going to do about it, as UK Television Licensing Authority we wonder exactly what the BBC are going to do about it. What the “detector van” driver did, we have to suppose, was done for the benefit of and on behalf of the BBC. The BBC are the public authority and therefore fully accountable for the actions of that “detector van” driver. The BBC acknowledges the fact that they are fully accountable by placing this in every freedom of Information response:

Please note that “TV Licensing” is a trade mark used by companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of television licence fees and enforcement of the television licensing system. The majority of the administration of TV Licensing is contracted to Capita Business Services Ltd (‘Capita’). Over-the-counter services are provided by PayPoint plc (‘PayPoint’) in the UK, and by the Post Office in the Isle of Man and Channel Islands. Marketing and printing services are contracted to Proximity London Ltd. Media services are contracted to Mediaedge:CIA International Limited ("MEC"). The BBC is a public authority in respect of its television licensing functions and retains overall responsibility.

So the BBC admit that they retain overall responsibility. In that case, we believe that the deployment of “detector vans” needs to be properly reviewed and more thoroughly risk assessed by the BBC. The UK and the people of the UK have moved on the BBC clearly have not. The age of respect and deference to public authority, any public authority, has long since vanished. Thanks to numerous scandals the BBC’s stock is at an all time low. If the BBC still thinks they can park their surveillance vehicles outside someone’s home, point optical equipment into the windows and get away with it then the BBC are clearly more out of touch than even we thought. Seemingly they will be in for some nasty “detector van” urban myth busting surprises as people increasingly get fed up of the BBC's intrusive surveillance. This is the beginning of an era of high technology assisted citizen activism, citizen journalism and video reportage in which angry and aggrieved camera equipped people do not think twice about going outside confronting officialdom and publishing what they record.

The BBC clearly needs to properly review and thoroughly risk assess what exactly the utility of “detector vans” is. What they allegedly “detect” cannot be used as evidence to bring prosecutions for alleged tv licence “evasion” so “detection evidence” is clearly non-existent. So that apart from alarmist “detector van” headlines “detector vans” serve no actual useful purpose, so what are they good for?.

So, the question is, are the BBC really going to continue placing the general public at risk whenever they authorise the deployment of surveillance vehicles that actually serve no useful evidence gathering surveillance purpose?

Over to the BBC and the BBC Trust. Hopefully they will still be sufficiently in touch with reality to deal with it properly. Though we among many others doubt it somehow.

"Family Killed in Head on Smash with Detector Van" or "Family Mown Down by Speeding Detector Van"- Be really great headlines wouldn't they BBC? How would the BBC explain them away? How could the BBC explain them away?

The value of domestic cctv surveillance and handheld video camera can prove invaluable in gathering evidence of the serial abuses and misdemeanours perpetrated by employees of Capita Business Services under cover of the BBC TV Licensing™ contract. TV Licensing Watch advises anybody who has the misfortune to have face to face dealings with Capita Business Services TV Licensing™ to make an audio-visual record of those dealings in their entirety covertly or overtly with cctv and handheld video cameras.

For people who have not exercised their right to remain silent, TV Licensing Watch advise anybody who has had the misfortune to have face to face dealings with Capita Business Services TV Licensing™ and have received a summons as a consequence to contact a licensed law practitioner if: there is the slightest discrepancy between the actual situation regarding viewing habits and/or what actually happened during the interview compared with what has been written on the TVL178 Record of Interview self incrimination form

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