Big Brother and CCTV – will remote guns on cameras be next?


Richard Moore

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Big Brother is shouting at you
Last updated at 21:02pm on 16th September 2006

Big Brother is not only watching you - now he's barking orders too. Britain's 
first 'talking' CCTV cameras have arrived, publicly berating bad behaviour and 
shaming offenders into acting more responsibly.

The system allows control room operators who spot any anti-social acts - from 
dropping litter to late-night brawls - to send out a verbal warning: 'We are 
watching you'.

Middlesbrough has fitted loudspeakers on seven of its 158 cameras in an 
experiment already being hailed as a success. Jack Bonner, who manages the 
system, said: 'It is one hell of a deterrent. It's one thing to know that there 
are CCTV cameras about, but it's quite another when they loudly point out what 
you have just done wrong.

'Most people are so ashamed and embarrassed at being caught they quickly slink 
off without further trouble.

'There was one incident when two men started fighting outside a nightclub. One 
of the control room operators warned them over the loudspeakers and they looked 
up, startled, stopped fighting and scarpered in opposite directions.

'This isn't about keeping tabs on people, it's about making the streets safer 
for the law-abiding majority and helping to change the attitudes of those who 
cause trouble. It challenges unacceptable behaviour and makes people think 

The Mail on Sunday watched as a cyclist riding through a pedestrian area was 
ordered to stop.

'Would the young man on the bike please get off and walk as he is riding in a 
pedestrian area,' came the command.

The surprised youth stopped, and looked about. A look of horror spread across 
his face as he realised the voice was referring to him.

He dismounted and wheeled his bike through the crowded streets, as instructed.

Law-abiding shopper Karen Margery, 40, was shocked to hear the speakers spring 
into action as she walked past them.

Afterwards she said: 'It's quite scary to realise that your every move could be 
monitored - it really is like Big Brother.

'But Middlesbrough does have a big problem with anti-social behaviour, so it is 
very reassuring.'

The scheme has been introduced by Middlesbrough mayor Ray Mallon, a former 
police superintendent who was dubbed Robocop for pioneering the zero-tolerance 
approach to crime.

He believes the talking cameras will dramatically cut not just anti-social 
behaviour, but violent crime, too.

And if the city centre scheme proves a success, it will be extended into 
residential areas.

The control room operators have been given strict guidelines about what commands
they can give. Yelling 'Oi you, stop that', is not permitted.

Instead, their instructions make the following suggestions: 'Warning - you are 
being monitored by CCTV - Warning - you are in an alcohol-free zone, please 
refrain from drinking'; and Warning - your behaviour is being monitored by CCTV.
It is being recorded and the police are attending.'

Mr Bonner said: 'We always make the requests polite, and if the offender obeys, 
the operator adds 'thank you'. We think that's a nice finishing touch.

'It would appear that the offenders are the only ones who find the audio cameras
intrusive. The vast majority of people welcome these cameras.

'Put it this way, we never have requests to remove them.'

But civil rights campaigners have argued that the talking cameras are no 'magic 
bullet', in the fight against crime.

Liberty spokesman Doug Jewell said: 'None of us likes litterbugs or yobs playing
up on a Saturday night, but talking CCTV cameras are no substitute for police 
officers on the beat.'

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