A PRIVATE investigator was hired by Bolton Council to conduct covert surveillance during a child abuse case.

Figures uncovered following a Freedom of Information Request by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch revealed the local authority used one private investigator last year at a cost of £257.

Council bosses described the case as “a serious non-accidental injury to a child” as part of care proceedings.

The council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to carry out the surveillance and said it was the only time in the last five years it had invoked the legislation.

But Big Brother Watch claims some councils and government bodies were increasingly employing private investigators to “snoop” on people.

A spokesman for Big Brother Watch, said: “The government has acted to control surveillance by local councils but this research shows more than ever before public bodies are using private detectives to do their snooping.”

Commenting on the pressure group’s findings, Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles said: “Such powers can only be used for serious crimes, and require a magistrates’ warrant.

“It is totally unacceptable if councils are trying to sidestep these important new checks and they should be held to account for acting outside the law.”

A Bolton Council spokesman said: “RIPA legislation allows us to use covert surveillance in very limited circumstances.

“We have only used this power once in the last five years in relation to care proceedings. These proceedings are used to safeguard the wellbeing of children.”