The DVSA recently announced: “We are investing in ‘bodycams’ for all frontline enforcement staff to reduce physical and verbal assaults”, adding, “we need to be able to protect the public without fear of violence or abuse. We take a zero-tolerance approach to physical and verbal assaults and the bodycams will act as a deterrent. They will also enable us to manage, support and respond to any assaults that take place”.
We fully understand why DVSA are going to provide bodycams to their staff: to deter any likelihood of physical or verbal assaults, and whilst we assume that VEs visiting Testing Stations will also be wearing those credit-card-sized bodycams as shown in their press release on the subject, that wasn’t made clear in the press release. If they are, however, some other interesting implications which then arise.
- Will Vehicle Examiners visiting Testing Stations be wearing bodycams?
- Will bodycam footage be used by DVSA to support disciplinary action against Testers and AEs?
- Will the footage be readily available to Testing Stations’ staff to support their responses to proposed disciplinary action.
We put these questions directly to DVSA. They confirmed that their staff visiting Test Stations would be wearing bodycams, but that any footage would only be used “to manage, support and respond if any assault takes place, not other issues that may be encountered during the visits”. On the last question, however, their response was equivocal. They said, “…this is purely about potential assaults and not other issues detected during the visit“, which fails to answer the question.
Historically when VEs (now officially called Vehicle Enforcement Managers – VEMs – but we’ll still refer to them as VEs here), have reported transgressions by Testers during their visits to Test Stations, there has often been some dispute as to what actually happened during the visit, as well as what was said by the Tester or the VE. Bodycam recordings would be able, in many cases, to clarify such disputed evidence – but from DVSA’s answers to our questions, that is not going to happen. Also, we understand that CCTV evidence presented by Testing Stations in defence of disciplinary action is not taken into account by DVSA’s Case Review Team (CRT, a central function to ensure disciplinary cases submitted from local staff are ‘normalised’ across the country), when considering AE and Tester appeals against intended disciplinary action.
Yet it seems that’s not necessarily the case at an earlier stage of the disciplinary process, as Eammon Loney, the MOT consultant who works on behalf of Testers and AEs by presenting their cases to DVSA in defence of disciplinary claims, including our MOT Shield service, explains. He says, “…currently when DVSA’s surveillance videos are used, they never permit us or AEs or NTs to see them!” That’s a bit puzzling as anybody appearing on video footage has the right to see it, unless it’s part of an ongoing criminal investigation – and most disciplinary cases do not involve criminal activity (see footnotes). Yet he also noted that on many occasions video evidence submitted by AEs has been successful in having serious DVSA disciplinary action stopped dead in its tracks from the outset before reaching the Case Review Team.
In one case when the VE arrived at the Testing Station, a car was in the Test bay, logged on, but the Tester couldn’t be found – so serious disciplinary action (‘Single Act Cessation of Testing’) was threatened despite DVSA being told the Tester had gone for a toilet break. CCTV evidence later showed that he had indeed taken a comfort break, returning to the bay and resuming the Test soon after DVSA staff had left; DVSA then reduced disciplinary sanctions accordingly.
Loney also notes that more often than not, when a VE has concerns about vehicle or Tester absences, DVSA always seek to obtain the station’s CCTV footage as part of the investigation process. He said that in some instances where the AE is able to provide instant footage that shows a Tester has breached in-house practices, then the AE is usually afforded a more lenient hearing, based on the fact that a Tester has been shown to have acted to deceive the AE. Such leniency is applied based on the fact that the AE’s quality checks would have later found the deceit, and those findings reported to DVSA.
Of course, although DVSA say that bodycam footage will only ever be used for assaults or abuse aimed at their staff, the use of both CCTV footage and VE’s bodycam evidence could be valuable in getting to the truth of disciplinary cases, but it is also a double-edged sword. Whilst Testers and AEs challenging a VE’s account of events could cite the CCTV/bodycam footage to support their case, the DVSA could also use such footage to support VEs’ allegations that Testers have transgressed – but surely that is a good thing all round.
If the video evidence is clear either way, then that should avoid a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of ‘I said… he said’ and other disputes between the MOT Trade and DVSA when dealing with disciplinary cases. It could save time and money for both sides of any argument. If the Tester or the AE are shown by either their own CCTV or DVSA’s bodycam to be ‘bang to rights’, then they are better off apologising and pleading mitigation rather than trying to plead innocence when guilt is plain. On the other hand, DVSA would soon see both from the bodycam evidence and any CCTV put up by the Trade in defence, that in some cases, the VE’s assertion that there was a disciplinary transgression was just plain wrong
From what we’ve heard unofficially from within DVSA, and what Consultant Eamonn Loney has experienced, together with DVSA’s responses to our questions on bodycams, DVSA’s current policy on using CCTV footage is somewhat confusing. They will not use it when their Case Review Team investigates disciplinary cases against AEs and Testers, yet when faced with incontrovertible CCTV evidence at an early stage showing their staff’s evidence is questionable, they will then reduce or drop or dilute their proposed disciplinary action; and they won’t provide Testing Stations with their own CCTV evidence, which could be contrary to Test Station staff’s legal right to see it.
Taken altogether, it is a shame that DVSA take such a jaundiced and equivocal view of the use of CCTV (and bodycam) footage. Their current policy doesn’t seem to be aimed at getting to the truth regarding the disciplinary processes. Surely it would be better for everybody if they accepted both CCTV from garages (of appropriate quality and date stamped) and their own officers’ bodycam footage as well. All that provided, of course, that the same evidence is made available to AEs, NTs and their representatives like Eamonn Loney in cases where the footage provides a good foundation in defence of disciplinary action by DVSA. Ironically, of course, in such a situation, faced with bodycam and/or CCTV evidence of what really happened, DVSA might not be taking disciplinary action in the first place…!
Your right to view CCTV footage of yourself
This is from the Government’s website on your right to see video footage of yourself. We have assumed that CCTV footage would include bodycam footage:
Request CCTV footage of yourself
You have the right to request CCTV footage of yourself.
You need to make a request to the owner of the CCTV system. You can do this either in writing or verbally.
The owner’s details are usually written on a sign attached to the camera, unless the owner is obvious (like a shop).
Tell them you’re requesting information held about you under data protection law. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has guidance about getting copies of your personal data.
Provide information to help the owner identify you, for example:
a specific date and time
proof of your identity
a description of yourself
The CCTV owner must usually provide the footage free of charge within one calendar month.
Most CCTV footage is deleted 30 days after it’s recorded.
The CCTV owner might not be allowed to share any footage if:
other people can be seen in it
they’re not able to edit out people to protect their identity
The CCTV owner can invite you to a viewing of the footage if:
they’re unable to provide you with the footage itself
you agree to that arrangement
They can refuse your request if sharing the footage could put an ongoing criminal investigation at risk.
The ICO has guidance about requesting footage:
* The ICO is the Information Commissioners Office.
* Normal day-to-day MOT disciplinary action by DVSA does not constitute an “ongoing criminal investigation”.