Can Westminster Council fix its flawed CCTV system in time for the Olympics?

If, as a shopkeeper, you were offered a £50 note which didn’t have an image of Boulton or Watt on it would you accept it as legal tender? No, of course you wouldn’t as it would be valueless. Boulton and Watt are woven into the notes as a watermark to reassure the owner that the currency is legal.

 

Westminsters DVTel CCTV

Westminsters DVTel CCTV

Yet Westminster City Council have been expecting motorists to accept video evidence of alleged parking offences without any reassurance that the video evidence has not been manipulated and without any valid watermarks. Amazingly, this may have been going on for years.

 

Parking campaigners have claimed that Westminster City Councils’ recently revamped CCTV network is not producing ‘barrister proof’ video evidence and the councils so called evidential videos may have had a broken audit trail for years.

 

Last month it was revealed that the council’s network of around 120 high resolution cameras, operated from control rooms in Lisson Grove and Piccadilly’s Trocadero Center underwent a £500,000 Olympic revamp. This May Westminster Council approved an agreement with Transport for London for the council to provide enforcement of the Olympic Route Network that runs through the borough.

 

After a recent Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (PATAS) hearing it emerged that DVD’s supplied by Westminster City Council as evidential copies didn’t have valid digital signatures or watermarks. In effect they were not guaranteed to be accurate or free from interference.

 

The issue came to light after parking campaigners The No To Mob and Barrie Segal from Appeal Now attended an all day hearing at PATAS. They were representing two black cab drivers who had been sent Penalty Charged Notices (PCNs) issued using cameras which formed part of Westminster Councils CCTV network. The hearing held before three of PATAS’s top adjudicators concentrated on whether Westminster Councils video evidence was fit for purpose.

 

James Couser and Kelly Donovan leaving PATAS

James Couser and Kelly Donovan leaving PATAS

The council was reassuringly represented by Lincoln’s Inn Barrister James Couser, who specialises in insolvency and company law. It is generally accepted that when one engages a barrister, it is usually prudent to find one who has a knowledge of parking and hopefully CCTV systems. Providing instruction to Mr Couser was the council’s own Australian solicitor Kelly Donovan. We noted that, ‘Skippy’ Donovan looked every bit the consummate professional smartly presented in what looked like a Coco Chanel number we nearly mistook her for a real SRA registered solicitor. Still PATAS is not a real court, just a kangaroo one as you will see later.

 

During the PATAS hearing Sara Sutton a Westminster Council Service Delivery Manager for Parking Services gave evidence that the councils DVDs were evidential copies of the footage and identical copies of the master copies which are held on the councils secure servers.

She explained that the council’s evidential DVD’s could be viewed on a computer using a specialized DVTel viewer.

 

The DVTel viewer is a software tool supplied with each DVD which is supposed to allow the viewer the ability to check the video for its watermark or digital signature. Ms Sutton helpfully stated in her evidence that “Each evidential DVD contained an integrity check file that would render the footage unplayable if tampered with. For this reason only the DVT file is evidential.” (Download source)

 

Westminster Council also backed up Ms Sutton’s statement by bringing along Ms Cathryn Scott who had come all the way down from Dingwell in Scotland, home of the councils outsourced procurement providers, Vertex Data Science Ltd.

In Ms Scott’s evidence it was stated “The evidential copy combines each image within the context sequence and the meta-data that describes that image within the same digital file. This digital file also contains an embedded digital “watermark” mechanism that allows the file to be subsequently validated against any modification of tampering, as long as the file remains in its original DVT format.” (Download source)

 

Sara Sutton and Cathryn Scott leaving PATAS

Sara Sutton and Cathryn Scott leaving PATAS

All in all this seemed like a lockout for the defence and a win win for Westminster Council (not to mention a weekday jolly for Ms Scott from Dingwall).

However, what was to follow was as close to a French Farce as anything Brian Rix could produce even with his trousers on.

During the PATAS hearing adjudicators were unable to get Westminster Council’s evidential DVDs to play at first, so they called in the help of Ms Andrews an outsourced IT expert on hand from the council.

After some 20 minutes of fiddling both the council’s evidential videos managed to finally be played to the adjudicators.

With breathtaking reassurance and clearly pleased with her work, in the afternoon the councils IT expert managed to replay a video from the morning’s case to the adjudicators.

 

But hold on. Nutsville was left scratching its head as it asked how this council IT expert managed to play the wrong video footage when campaigners had been assured that video footage was not pre-stored on PATAS’s computer hard drives. It’s like why there is always fluff under the bed, it may remain a mystery.

Nutsville can tell you the only way the wrong video footage could have been played when the DVD disc is changed would be if the video footage was already on that computers hard drive. This may have something to do with PATAS allowing Westminster Council to send their own IT people days before the hearing to try to make sure their suspect DVDs would play at the hearing.

 

That point was not picked up by the three adjudicators which by now seemed well out of their depth. So out of their depth were they that none of them spotted Ms Andrews not following Westminster’s own set of step by step instructions for playing the videos, let alone the ones produced by DVTel.

Most of us ignore the manuals, but the real reason she may have not wanted to follow the DVTel instructions was because they contain the information about checking the watermark which have been omitted from Westminster’s cut down instructions.

 

PATAS are always keen to tell the public how independent they are though, and we are sure they are not on regular chatty terms with council officers and don’t allow various local authorities councillors’ to select which retired solicitors get the lucrative adjudicator jobs, yes PATAS are independent alright.

 

 

The PATAS fiasco left campaigners with serious doubts about the video evidence so they took five of the councils evidential DVD’s to a specialist, Dr William Knottenbelt BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD at Imperial College London’s Department of Computing Imperial College London.

He found that none of the five DVD’s had a valid digital signature. Not only that but certain check boxes within the software were unusable and greyed out.

With the DVtel viewing software itself only playable on computers running 32 bit versions of Windows with an Intel compatible processor, MAC and a lot of Windows users are stuffed. But even if you got by the false virus alert that the DVTel software causes on many machines, you may still not be lucky enough to actually see the manipulated evidence the council are using to allege various offences against you.

 

It’s not surprising then that Westminster City Council put up such a dirty little fight to avoid any close scrutiny of its video system. In December 2011 Westminster’s Head of Legal, Peter Large warned the No To Mob’s Nigel Wise that his case was without merit and should he pursue it to another hearing the council would seek its costs of between £1500 and £2000.

 

But by the time the two cases did go back to PATAS in May 2012, Westminster’s specialist insolvency barrister James Couser (remember him also moonlighting as a parking specialist) seemed to have worked himself in to a right old froth, claiming the council would be seeking over £5000 compensation, after personally attacking both Mr Wise and Mr Segal. He claimed that neither of them should be able to represent the two black cab drivers calling them ‘intermedlers’ and that both were “off on frolics of their own”.

 

Things were getting so heated some people were reaching for their handbags as the venom continued to flow towards the campaigners.

 

Not even Dr Knottenbelt escaped the sharp side of this insolvency wiz barrister, claiming his evidence was suspect and lamented the fact that the professor was not at the hearing, no doubt so he to could receive a good tongue lashing from Couser.

Mr Couser had discovered that Dr Knottenbelt was not a great fan of the parking enforcement practices of some Local Authorities.

 

If Dr William Knottenbelt BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD at Imperial College London’s Department of Computing Imperial College London was not fit to give an opinion about Westminster Councils software just why do you almost need a tape measure to record all the letters after his name? It would be nice if Westminster Council were able to find an expert to disagree with Dr Knottenbelt’s observations, so we can get our tape measure out, just to see who the best judge of flaky software that in our opinion is so badly written most computers can’t play the videos.

 

Irrespective of what Mr Couser says, the fact is simple: either the videos show they have a valid digital signature or they don’t.

So far not one of the DVD evidential videos provided by Westminster Council show a valid digital signature, as the screen shot below shows.

 

DVTel invalid digital signature

DVTel invalid digital signature

 

If the digital signature was not of any importance why have DVTel gone to great trouble to build this security feature into their systems? The video below is made by DVTel and explains how operators can keep the digital signatures intact when making copies of the master video file.

 

veiw video on YouTube

 

As for Mr Segal not being qualified to represent anyone at PATAS, well Segal soon put PATAS right on that smear when he pointed out he had represented over 2700 cases at PATAS and a significant case in the High Court. Perhaps Mr Couser was confused between parking and insolvency, as Segal is also a chartered accountant. Lastly Mr Segal also runs his own software company and has done for many years, so you might say he knows a thing or two. Game set and match to Mr Segal we think.  

 

Couser also attempted to smear Mr Wise in front of the PATAS adjudicators gleefully pointing out to them that Wise had accepted £50 compensation from PATAS for an appeal he defended. We all got to warm our hands on the bright red glow coming from Mr Couser when Mr Wise explained he was defending his own parking ticket at the time and having spent nearly £500 in expenses for that case, £50 compensation did not seem all that greedy, did it? There was also the little matter of the millions of pounds worth of refunds that Mr Wise has been instrumental in achieving for thousands of motorists.

 

Mr Couser apologised for his accusation and suggested his research had failed him on that point. Had Mr Couser not spent time downloading and printing over 60 pages of No To Mob forum posts (hardly scientific) he may have had more time to concentrate on the facts, rather than the vague jottings on an Internet forum. We did manage to hold back our laughter when he produced this piece of killer evidence which only seem to prove that he has access to a photocopier and is not afraid to use it.

 

It’s likely that Mr Couser was being paid more than £50 for his troubles, and what he was doing was just his job, he was a hired gun trying to save the arses of a few petty functionaries at Westminster Council who had forgotten they were there to serve the public. He did what any good barrister would do if the evidence provided by his employers was so thin, all that is left to do is get out the pot of ‘smear’ and start flinging it.

 

After all this was taxpayers money at stake, OURS.

 

As the PATAS hearing concluded the adjudicators said they expected to come to a decision within the next ten days, which would have brought us to the end of May. At the time of writing this (15th June 2012) PATAS have neither decided that Mr Segal and Mr Wise could act as representatives for the two black cab drivers, or if Westminster’s flaky CCTV system is fit for purpose.

 

Incidentally the rather over obliging Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) even refused to certify Westminster City Councils DVTel software ‘solution’. Now they have learnt of the digital signature problem they have gone back to Westminster Council to ask what the hell has been going on (but not in those words). You see the VCA never actually came to check out Westminster’s CCTV systems, it was all done by emails between London and Bristol where the VCA are based. Westminster would say they have this piece of equipment or that piece of software works in such and such a way, even if it doesn’t, and the silly VCA just accept that Westminster are telling the truth.

 

Perhaps now you can see why Westminster City Council have point blank refused to release even a redacted word from the technical construction file which is supposed to back up the validity of their certificate.

 

What could have gone wrong.

 

This is only speculation but without any explanations from the council we do wonder how a system capable of producing evidential video keeps coming into to question. One of the differences in the Westminster CCTV system is that it consists of a large number of modified cameras, which after the DfT forced the council to switch them all off, the council embarked upon a ‘one by one’ camera module upgrade. This was reported to have cost around £850,000.

 

Doing an upgrade instead of a complete replacement may have caused the digital signature problem, as the watermark is often created by the camera module. So the watermark follows all the way through the system from camera to evidential copies, thus avoiding accusations of tampering.

 

It’s also not a difficult thing to achieve these days with any number of Local Authorities able to clearly explain how their CCTV is stored and is legal with a clear evidential trial, as this example from Info4 Security about Islington Council’s CCTV demonstrates. (http://www.info4security.com/story.asp?storycode=4115684 )

 

Westminster’s response

 

You might think that with the Olympics just around the corner and with Westminster City Council having just gained approval from Transport for London for the council to provide enforcement of the ‘Games Lanes’ nick named ‘Zil’ lanes running through the borough that someone from the council would be keen to explain if their CCTV is able to provide watermarked evidential videos. After all one of the big catch phrases councils just like Westminster use to sell the public an ever larger population of CCTV is the safety aspect, just sprinkle with words like crime, disorder and terrorism and your guaranteed budget approval for another splurge on spy cameras.

 

So who better to ask at Westminster Council than Leith Penny, Strategic Director for City Management who was contacted regarding serious concerns about the CCTV system three Friday’s ago?

He was in a meeting at the time, but was asked to call back, he never did.

Not even after contacting the councils Head of Legal, Peter Large, who said he woul;d ask ‘someone’ to call a No To Mob member back, still nothing from Westminster.

So penny just can’t be bothered to pick up the phone to talk about this, when in the past he’s been keen to haul his sorry carcass onto the roof of City Hall and deny to the BBC there is any problem with the certification of the councils CCTV system.

One can only assume he’s busy verifying the Queens portrait on the ten-pence piece he must have been given as a thank you by the Council to stay out of the way.

Peter Large has given a provisional opinion on the above matters, and although agreeing that an audit trial is needed, this does not necessarily require in law for the audit trial to include a digital signature.

 

A Select Committee on Science and Technology report does back up what he says (view source).

 

But one significant line in that report says “Of considerable interest to us was that no defence teams in the United Kingdom had, as yet, ever requested an audit trail be produced in any case where video images were being used by the prosecution This may change as defendants and their lawyers become more familiar with the technology”

 

If Westminster Council are using the same software for its crime and disorder CCTV (and DVTel suggest it is) there is a risk of challenge to any prosecutions the police might have made on the basis of WCC tampered with CCTV evidence.

 

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16 Comments

Peter LargeJune 18th, 2012 at 7:07 am

What is the purpose of your nasty personal attack on a member of my staff?

A couple of less nasty personal comments for you in return.

Firstly, do you remember writing this?

http://forum.notobikeparkingtax.com/discuss/could-peter-large-be-offering-to-pay-for-us-to-present-our-findings-to-a-judge/msg14532/#msg14532

“Any attack on Warren is an attack on all of us. Warren has never lied to me, have you Peter Large?”

You once backed a self-aggrandising bully and made yourself look silly. I fear you may now be making the same mistake again.

Secondly, to live outside the law you must be honest. If you choose to spend your time sneering at other people and questioning their integrity, you must as a bare minimum at least know what you are talking about and have some integrity yourself. You evidently tick neither box.

Joe KingJune 18th, 2012 at 11:34 am

It is so refreshing to know that Peter can be reached through Nutsville, as it may prove useful in the future when all the PCN refunds become due. I think it will be a Large amount don’t you Peter?

Peter LargeJune 18th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Is that your defence?

If PATAS is a kangaroo court, as you assert, its decision , whatever it may be, cannot lead to “PCN refunds”. If you want to write propaganda you have to provide a consistent narrative. Otherwise no-one believes you.

Joe KingJune 18th, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Peter I do not need a defence, as I have done nothing wrong as far as I am aware. However using CCTV equipment / systems that do not meet requirements to enforce parking and moving traffic violations is indefensible. Especially as this is not the first time WCC has been caught using inadequate equipment.

Peter LargeJune 18th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Even if there were anything in your point about CCTV (and whether it is indefensible remains to be seen) it would not justify attacking my staff. They are not using it.

I am not an expert on the ethics of jounalism, if that is what this is, but I would have thought writing comments on your own work under an assumed name is also “wrong” by any normal standards.

Joe KingJune 18th, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Peter I am afraid you have made a huge mistake in asserting that I am in some way connected with Nutsville, I am just a member of the public posting on a public Blog.
As I stated earlier I do not need a defence, as I have done nothing wrong. The nearest I get to Journalism is when I buy my paper in the mornings on the way to work. I will now not respond to any more of you’re post to save you any further embarrassment.

Peter LargeJune 18th, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Just a member of the public. Of course you are. Mr Joe King.

NutsJune 19th, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Mr Peter Large, you seem to have made some very regrettable assumptions about the writer of this post, me.

Joe King whom you have mistaken for me for some strange reason, is a reader of this blog and speaks on his own behalf. I have not suggested what he should write or as you may think ‘put him up to it’. I can prove all that if necessary in a court of law should this proceed that way.

You however have chosen to speak publically on behalf of Westminster City Council. I will be writing to you and your latest Council leader, along with the so called chief executive, expecting you to backup the claims you have chosen to make publically.

I assume the member of your staff you refer to is Kelly Donovan, but I am not sure as I have received no communications from her.

Are you having some kind of a breakdown? If you are I would be deeply sorry to learn that. If not, for your own sake I strongly advise you to stay away from the keyboard for a while until you have calmed down and stopped damaging your reputation and the reputation of the council you represent.

Lastly I am not Mr Jones either, as I understand you have made acusations towards him as well this week, oh dear.

Cllr David BoothroydJune 19th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Assuming that the timestamp on comments is accurate and in BST, I have to question whether the comments left here under the name ‘Peter Large’ were left by the Director of Legal Services for Westminster City Council. Peter Large was present at a meeting of the Standards Committee of Westminster City Council which began at 6:30 PM last night, 18 June 2012 and was presenting a report at 6:39 PM. It might be a good idea to double-check.

NutsJune 19th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

You make a good point David, but as you see from your own comment the server operates on GTM time, so you need to add one hour to the comments times to get BST. The comments from Mr Large all come from the same IP number 80.169.162.214 which is assigned to WCC as below:

inetnum: 80.169.162.208 – 80.169.162.223
netname: NET-GB-CAPGEMINI
descr: CAPGEMINI UK PLC
country: GB
admin-c: CC330-RIPE
tech-c: CC330-RIPE
status: ASSIGNED PA
remarks: notify eu-ripemaster@colt.net
mnt-by: COLT-UK
source: RIPE # Filtered

person: COLIN CAMPBELL
address: WESTMINSTER CITY
address: LONDON
phone: +11 11111111
nic-hdl: CC330-RIPE
mnt-by: COLT-UK
source: RIPE # Filtered

Mr Large has also chosen to email from his @westminster.gov.uk email address rather than his personal email address which is why I consider that on this occasion he is speaking on behalf of Westminster City Council.

I had no real beef with Mr Large or Ms Donovan, nothing that I wanted to pursue anyway, but that is now under consideration. IMO it would have been much better if others at the council had come out and denied or confirmed the problems with the DVD evidence when they knew about it three weeks ago. The offer not to go public was made. The fact that no one from the council wishes to refute the claims and decided on a line of attack instead of addressing the real issues speaks volumes.

DarcusJune 19th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Oh dear, seems some people haven’t quite got to grips with the concept of ‘Forums’. I think it is quite revealing of Mr Large’s intelligence if he thinks that Nutsville would use a sock puppet to respond on its own site?!?! It may come as a surprise to him to know that Nutsville is just the tips of the iceberg that is getting sick and tired of the lying, coniving, self serving immoral actions of those that work in our local councils and think the public are stupid. Thank god I’m dealing with Camden Council because I would love to give Mr Large a run for his money and expose his limited intelligence.

Joe KingJune 19th, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Nutsville, please feel free to use my logged IP information in any later action YOU care to pursue.

LegolasJune 20th, 2012 at 6:37 am

I would recommend that anyone reading this should examine the thread that Mr. Large has kindly linked to. It is particularly illuminating.

However I would also remind Mr. Large that, like all Westminster staff, he is barred from accessing or reading the NTBPT website. It would appear that minor details like ‘rules’ are of little interest to the council’s Head of Legal Services.

And I must pickup on Mr. Large’s last paragraph: “…to live outside the law you must be honest.”
Does that mean to live within the law you must be dishonest?

And as a broader observation, surely if the council were both legally and morally beyond reproach, senior officers would not feel a need to vent their anger against individuals or groups/websites in this way. After all, this is not the first time, is it Mr. Large. I am no expert in psychology, but even I know that few things make someone feel more caged, disempowered or frustrated than having to constantly defend things they know to be fundamentally indefensible.

As for the comment: “Even if there were anything in your point about CCTV (and whether it is indefensible remains to be seen)…”; Mr. Large, you are a clever man. Are you seriously suggesting that you don’t already know the answer to the question of whether it is morally indefensible for a council to use equipment that the wider legislature has not deemed fit for purpose to convict the public of minor civil offences for which they will have to pay large sums in penalties?

BruceJune 20th, 2012 at 9:54 am

I can’t help feeling cosying up to an insolvency practice might be portentous given the number of unenforceable PCNs that are likely to be have to be repaid ;-) Anyway, I’m sure they have a very good explanation for dragging their feet on refuting the suggestion that their cameras are not fit for purpose…we await this with the anticipation and excitement of a child at Xmas!

BruceJune 23rd, 2012 at 8:14 am

Oddly, comments from WCC seem to have Largely Petered out :-D

MarkDecember 4th, 2013 at 9:42 am

I beleive CCTV recordings are now being used out of context,Do we all say and state on the CCTV warning signs ” CCTV recording in operation to promote the safety of staff and public and to deter criminal activity”

Using CCTV in this way just reduces the the publics perception of how well CCTV can help them and generate secure areas. If you use it as intended to promote safe area’s and not allow councils or other private companies to abuse its use so they may claim monies from persons I am sure the publics thoughts on CCTV will change from a money making device to one which promotes safety and does prevent crime.
my opinion only

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