PRIVATE enforcement officers issuing fines to litterers have been defended by Bournemouth council after it was suggested they are overzealous and damaging the town’s image.

The borough delegated responsibility for issuing the £75 fixed penalty notices for dog fouling and littering to enforcement firm 3GS on a 12-month trial basis at the end of October.

But concerns were raised during a recent council meeting that the officers, who all wear body cameras, had annoyed town centre businesses by following suspected offenders into shops.

Cllr Nigel Hedges, former Town Centre Management Board chairman, told the Echo: “It’s difficult enough getting people in the shop in the first place. If you were on the town centre BID board you might ask if they want them to do this.

“But I do understand that it’s a trial and it’s about sending a strong message out that we won’t tolerate people dropping litter.

“It’s a question of whether we need a more diplomatic approach.”

As an example of what he does not want to see happen in Bournemouth, Cllr Hedges cited a case in Wirral last year where a man was fined for dropping his bookmark.

Portfolio holder for planning and environment, Cllr David Smith, confirmed that 3GS officers are legally entitled to follow suspected offenders into shops.

“However, following discussions with local businesses 3GS will attempt to resolve the situation outside the shops, and if possible contact the shop security guard if they do enter,” said Cllr Smith.

“We want to reassure residents, businesses and visitors that whilst our approach to environmental crime is robust, we strongly believe in trying to educate and inform people about the law.

“Our objective is to help create a positive outcome in the long term with 3GS enforcement officers targeting known litter ‘hot spot’ areas and only taking enforcement action against those caught littering.”

Cllr Smith said that Bournemouth is a “premier resort” and that the council wants to keep it clean and tidy for both residents and tourists.

“Our approach has always been to educate and inform people about their responsibilities and to follow this up with enforcement,” he said.

“But with repeated complaints from concerned residents and businesses, we are using 3GS to enforce against those blatantly ignoring the law.

“We hope the use of 3GS will help influence people’s attitudes to litter, bring about behaviour change and ensure we maintain Bournemouth’s image as a premier resort for visitors.”

In February it was revealed that 3GS officers had fined 290 people in Bournemouth during the first three months of the trial - 20 times more than the council issued in the same timeframe the previous year.

3GS declined the Echo's invitation to comment.

Council's 'Watergate' moment

IT was hardly Watergate, but a recording of a Bournemouth council meeting did cut mysteriously short moments before an alleged row.

The Echo was told by a source that Cllr Smith and Cllr Hedges had crossed words during a heated exchange about the 3GS enforcement officers.

The borough puts recordings of all of its public meetings on its website to promote transparency.

On this occasion it took seven days to publish – and only after the Echo asked for the recording on two separate occasions.

The recording ends as Cllr Smith is taking questions from other members about the 3GS officers. The authority said this was due to a “technical problem”.

Cllr Hedges said it is a shame the public cannot listen to the meeting in full, and that no heated row occurred.

The minutes covering this portion of the meeting said: “A member also commented about the potential perception the scheme may have on tourists visiting the town and the power the wardens had to enter business to pursue someone who had been observed littering."