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