A family were spied on for three weeks by a council to check whether they lived in the catchment area of their child’s school.
An undercover official made a detailed log of the family’s daily activities without their knowledge, tailing the morning and afternoon school runs and returning in the evening to watch their £350,000 house.
He made notes including one that reads: “Female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off.” Another states: “Curtains open and all lights on in premises.”
Yesterday the family at the centre of the investigation into their private lives said they were furious their local authority had “stalked” them.
Poole Borough Council in Dorset acted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which was introduced by Labour in 2000, partly on the grounds of improving national security. Any evidence obtained under the Act may be used in a criminal prosecution.
The mother who was watched with her partner and three children aged three, six and ten, said: “I can’t bear to think about those people watching my family, it sends a chill down my spine.
“I’m incensed that legislation to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old.”
The 39-year-old businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said the discovery her family had been spied on had left her feeling on edge.
She continued: “My partner is often away on business and when someone parks outside we wonder who they are.
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“The council won’t tell us if the people watching us were police checked or whether they were taking photographs.”
The surveillance operation began after the couple applied for their youngest child to go to the same school as her sibling, Lilliput First School in Poole.
They were planning to move further away from the school, but asked the council for advice on its admissions policy to ensure their daughter would not be denied a place.
The parents were told that as long as they did not move before the end of January, their daughter would qualify to start at the school in September.
Several weeks after the deadline, they moved two miles away. Then a member of the public incorrectly told the council that the family were living at the new house but registering themselves for school admission at their previous address.
Such tactics are becoming widespread as parents take increasingly desperate measures to ensure their child is admitted to the school of their choice.
The couple were later summoned to a meeting with the council’s schools admissions manager, when it emerged they had been subject to the surveillance operation.
The mother said the council began investigating on February 13 and concluded on March 3.
The log made by the council surveillance officer states that in that period, daily visits were made to both properties.
On entry says: “Female driver with children as passengers”, then lists ten roads their car drove along.
The mother and her partner of 16 years, a 37-year-old computer programmer, want to warn other parents what councils are capable of doing.
She said: “We followed the council’s advice and moved after the date they gave us. But still they stalked us.
“We even turned down an offer on the house in October because we knew we couldn’t move until after January.
“I can’t imagine a greater invasion of our privacy. I’ll admit that we have played the system, but it’s no worse than moving into an area to get your children into a particular school.”
The child has been admitted to the school and is due to start in September.
Yesterday Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services at the council, said: “RIPA procedures have been used to investigate potentially fraudulent applications for school places.
“In such circumstances, we have considered it appropriate to treat the matter as a potential criminal matter.
“An investigation may actually satisfy the council that the application is valid, as happened in this case.”