Thousands of people involved in disagreements with council staff have had their personal details stored on secret blacklists.
Bureaucrats have listed the details of members of the public who have been involved in rows with teachers or dustmen over seemingly trivial matters.
Scores of councils hold databases of ‘undesirables’ – individuals who could potentially pose a threat to their staff.
They hold the details of almost 9,000 people, but most have never been charged with or convicted of a crime.
Personal information such as car registration numbers, telephone numbers, household pets, nicknames and distinguishing features are listed on the databases.
Earlier this year the Coalition pledged to crack down on the legacy of Labour’s surveillance society.
Ministers have investigated the number of state powers of entry contained in primary and secondary legislation and were astonished to discover 1,200 in existence – more than 400 of which were created by Labour.
Thirty-four of the 78 councils in England contacted by the Daily Mail admitted having the watch lists and five more are planning to introduce them this year. The total will be higher because there are more than 350 councils in England.
Councils have wildly different criteria for placing people on the blacklist. Many are put there simply after a form is filled out by a member of staff and then rubber-stamped by a manager.
Telford and Wrekin Council said it lists residents ‘if a person behaves in a way which is felt could pose a significant threat of physical or mental harm to employees’.
Doncaster Council said a ‘person needs to pose a potential danger to an employee of the council, or someone acting on behalf of council’ to be put on the list.
But in many councils hundreds of staff can access personal information about people logged as a potential threat, even though they have no contact with the public and so could never be in danger.
Last night Daniel Hamilton, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘It beggars belief to think that so many councils are wasting precious financial resources compiling databases of “undesirable” local residents.
'While councils have a duty to protect their staff, they also have a duty to respect the privacy of local residents.
‘People who have never committed a crime should not have their details logged like common criminals. Their details should be deleted immediately.’
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, has warned councils that they have a legal duty to keep the information secure.
A spokesman for his office said councils had a duty of care to protect their staff, which could involve putting them on a list.
But he added: ‘These markers should be used very carefully and should contain the reasons for identifying individuals as being potentially violent.’
He said councils should inform residents who are on the database, setting out how they ended up on it. Only in extreme cases where a council believed that telling a resident they were on the list would lead to a violent reaction should they not approach the individual.
Good citizen treated like a criminal
When she spotted a drunk trampling flowers in a park, Jane Clift saw it as her public duty to report him.
But her efforts led to a nightmare in which she was branded potentially violent and put on a council blacklist with thugs and sex attackers.
Her details were circulated to public and private bodies, including doctors’, dentists’, opticians’, libraries, contraceptive clinics, schools and nurseries.
Their staff were advised not to see her alone. The 44-year-old former care worker was forced to withdraw an application to become a foster parent and to leave the town where she had lived for ten years.
Her ordeal began in August 2005 when she called the police after the drunk threatened her in a park in Slough, Berkshire.
He had fled by the time police arrived, but they advised her to contact the council, which was running a campaign to persuade people to report anti-social behaviour. When a worker in the anti-social behaviour unit allegedly failed to take action, Mrs Clift went to a higher level. A co-ordinator claimed she became ‘very difficult’ during a phone call.
In December 2005, Mrs Clift received a letter from the council to say she had been put on the register of potentially violent people.
After a four-year legal battle, the High Court ordered Slough Council to pay her £12,000 in libel damages.