Barnet Council spies paid to secretly film you at open meetings

Security company MetPro Rapid Response has now gone bust owing hundreds of thousands to taxman

SECURITY officers employed by Tory-run Barnet Council have been using body-worn, concealed CCTV cameras to spy on residents, the Ham&High can reveal.

MetPro Rapid Response Security – which has billed itself in one advert as “an alternative to 999” – was paid more than a quarter of a million pounds over 10 months to guard council property and patrol town hall meetings. It has held a council contract since 2006.

The organisation advertises itself as being capable of one minute emergency response times and of the “arrest and detention” of intruders. On its website the muscle-bound officers pose in stab vests, all in black with sunglasses in front of rapid response vehicles with flashing lights and one photograph even features a helicopter.

The company went bust at the beginning of the month and was put into liquidation owing �250,000 in unpaid taxes – but the same security officers have been working in Barnet under the new name MetPro Emergency Response and still boast close links and endorsements from Barnet Council.

Conservative MP Matthew Offord has called on Barnet Tories to deal with the issue immediately.

He told the Ham&High: “I have a really big problem with the idea that they are covertly filming Barnet residents.

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“I will be writing to the leader of the council and to the Mayor. My colleagues are concerned – a constituent has also been in touch expressing his unease – unease which I share. This is not a political issue; it needs to be dealt with. There does seem to be something untoward going on with this company. I would expect the council to choose to be involved with a more socially responsible organisation.”

Despite heavy police presence at a budget-setting meeting on March 1, seven MetPro officers wearing hidden cameras were guarding the public gallery and stopping residents from entering the building.

Stan Davison, 85, runs a 55-plus group in Barnet. He saw residents denied access to the main public chamber by the heavies – despite there being plenty of space.

He said: “They were an intimidating presence, threatening people and telling them what to do. This was a quiet Barnet meeting with people wanting to attend quietly – instead they created a menacing element in that room.

“I am old enough to remember the Blackshirts in the 30s and they reminded me of them – those uniforms were designed to intimidate. Black shirts, black trousers, black belts and big black boots. I had no sense of being involved in a democratic occasion whatsoever.”

MetPro’s Kevin Sharkey, who is listed as secretary of MetPro Rapid Response at Companies House, even turned up to a small residents’ forum in a security car with blacked out windows and red lights flashing and boasted of filming residents and monitoring blog and twitter activity at the March 1 full council meeting.

Adam, a local resident heard the boasts of Mr Sharkey. He said: “He was boasting about how much good they have done for Barnet Council and how they give them a discount.

“He said that all of his orders came from the powers that be at the council and he was simply carrying out orders. He claimed all his officers were wearing hidden cameras during the council meeting, which is why he knows nothing out of order occurred, and he also has been monitoring the blogs, and indeed Twitter, live during the meeting.”

When questioned by the Ham&High Mr Sharkey confirmed that his employees regularly used hidden, body-worn CCTV cameras to ‘‘amass evidence’’.

He said: “As standard procedure we carry body-worn CCTV cameras that record sight and sound. The purpose of the cameras, like all CCTV, is the purpose of assisting crime prevention.”

Mr Sharkey confirmed that the four staff who attend all Barnet meetings were at the March 1 meeting, plus three extras were drafted in for the night.

He said: “People see square jaws and muscles and make accusations, but people need to be careful what they are saying.

“Should anyone make a formal allegation of wrongdoing to the police I am certain we will pass on all or any information that we have.”

This would include any CCTV recorded on the night, he said.

A spokeswoman for Barnet Council said it would be urgently reviewing MetPro Rapid Response’s position.

Thursday lunctime update: Barnet council has announced that they have terminated the contract with MetPro Rapid Response. A spokeswoman for the council said: “MetPro has gone into liquidation and the council has terminated it’s contract. At no point has the council ever authorised security staff carrying lapel cameras.

“Unlike some other London boroughs, the setting of the budget in Barnet at cabinet and council was held with the public present and at the advertised time and place. Every resident who arrived at Hendon Town Hall by the start of the meeting had a place in either the public gallery or the overflow room. “