Naming and shaming ‘enviro-criminals’

Like a poor man’s FBI Most Wanted List, Gloucester Council in England is publishing photos of those it deems guilty of anti-green crimes.

Tessa Mayes

Topics Politics

‘Enviro-crimes’ such as fly tipping, letting your dog foul the footpath and dropping litter are being dealt with in new and quite authoritarian ways. For instance, council street wardens in Gloucester, England, have taken to walking around with video cameras strapped to their heads. Anyone caught dropping litter can be videoed and a still image put on the council’s website, which looks like a poor man’s version of the FBI’s Most Wanted List (1).

The photo accompanying this article shows Gloucester council’s latest alleged offender. (spiked has blacked out the woman’s identity, on the basis that we’re not really interested in doing Gloucester council’s dirty work for it.) This young woman was filmed on Valentine’s Day, by street wardens who were clearly not interested in spreading love. She is ‘suspected’ of ‘littering offences in the city’.

Now you may not like litterbugs. However, in this woman’s defence, she has not even been proven guilty of littering offences. The council wardens taking photos of those they observe dropping litter – and thus whom they suspect of committing littering offences – are overturning a fundamental principle of justice: that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. It is unclear from the council website exactly what the woman is supposed to have done, and what evidence there is to prove that she did it. Besides, why should a case of littering give the council the right to display an individual’s image, as if she’s a known murderer or in some other way a danger to society?

The social repercussions of naming and shaming people who litter go way beyond a potential fine of £75. Publishing these sorts of images might lead to the individual under suspicion being ridiculed, by workmates, perhaps, or strangers in the street. It could even cause them to lose their job, if their boss decides that they are a liability, someone held up publicly as being irresponsible and uncaring. This is precisely the kind of negative publicity that companies are keen to avoid, especially today, when all companies are supposed to be super green and environmentally aware.

Anyone reading the Gloucester council website – and you are forced to wonder what kind of sad individual scrolls through a council site on the lookout for misbehaving citizens he or she might recognise – is invited to provide the authorities with the alleged offender’s name and address. That is, to grass people up. You can do it by email or by phone. Encouraging people to dob others in is bad enough. Encouraging them to dob others in over something as trivial as, say, a discarded Wrigley’s chewing gum wrapper is bizarre.

Surely it would make more sense for council workers to walk the streets with cleaning equipment rather than helmet-video-cameras, so that they can clear up the litter rather than film people allegedly dropping it. The council puts forward a financial argument for its actions, claiming that it costs the council £1million a year to clean the streets. Yet raising £75 in fine money every time someone is spotted and convicted of littering is not going to make up such a sum of money. Rather, targeting people through the filming, naming and shaming method is about more than raising money and keeping the streets clean – it shows the extent to which environmentalism is becoming a moral crusade aimed at correcting our individual behaviour. So instead of Gloucester council collectively resolving to keep the streets spotless, it actively goes looking for ‘enviro-criminals’ whom it can make an example of.

What next? Will they bring back the stocks and encourage residents to throw gone-off vegetables (recyclable, of course) at those who have sinned against the green ethos?

This petty approach to environmental issues is not confined to littering. I spoke to an environmental health worker last week who joked that, such is her power and authority over local bin use, she is known as ‘Dusty Bin.’ Under the 2005 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environmental Act, councils have to fulfill targets on cleaning up the environment. This means their dustbin men can now look through your recycling bin. And if you’ve ‘contaminated’ it with the wrong kind of rubbish, you could be fined up to £100 – never mind the privacy implications of local authorities knowing your consumption habits. There are signs of a growing opposition to this bin snooping. Someone has launched an e-petition on the British government’s No.10 website to oppose ‘smart bins’, which record what kind of rubbish is being deposited in the bin and can identify which house the said bin belongs to.

Councils should stop their fanciful hunting of ‘enviro criminals’, and provide us instead with more bins and street cleaners.

Tessa Mayes is a regular contributor to the Spectator and author of the spiked-report Restraint or Revelation: Free speech and privacy in a confessional age.
Email: {encode=”[email protected]” title=”[email protected]”}.

(1) Litter Suspects page, Gloucester Council website, 23 February 2007

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Topics Politics


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