IN the past 12 months Borough of Poole’s spying powers have been used once, to covertly watch potentially unlawful shellfish dredging.

It took place in Poole Harbour and was a joint exercise with a number of other agencies, a report before cabinet said.

The council shocked the nation when it used its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2008 to spy on Jenny Paton and Tim Joyce and their family for nearly three weeks.

They were suspected of having lied about living in the catchment area for over-subscribed Lilliput First School.

Since then the council has used the controversial powers to monitor noise at a takeaway, under age alcohol sales and minor vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

However there was such an outcry at the use of the powers by councils that since November 2012 magistrates permission has been required before use, which is limited to the investigation of crimes which attract a minimum six month custodial sentence – except for underage sales.

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners visits local authorities every two to three years and on his last visit assistant commissioner His Honour Norman Jones QC felt that the council’s seven authorising officers was too many. This is now to be reduced to four.

“The Commissioner noted that the council’s RIPA policy guidance documents required some updating and amendment in order to give clearer guidance to authorising officers and others,” said Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services in his report.

“This has now been completed to the satisfaction of the OSC.”

He added that the commissioner also noted that while the council was a “very low user” of surveillance, he felt officers who might get involved should have further training.

“We are currently in the process of organising a joint training event with Bournemouth following their inspection which took place at the same time,” he added.