Do The Vans Ex­ist Or Not?

Micro Mart - - Iplayer Law Change -

Given the num­ber of pic­tures I’ve found of them, some sup­posed de­tec­tion vans have ex­isted at var­i­ous times – at least they’ve been la­belled as such.

How­ever, those who have asked the BBC how many vans it has usu­ally get quoted the ex­cuse that pro­vid­ing that in­for­ma­tion would neg­a­tively af­fect the pre­ven­tion or de­tec­tion of crime and the collection of the li­cence fee. Well, surely it wouldn’t if there were lots of them, so by in­fer­ence, that an­swer sug­gests there aren’t many.

A hint about how few was re­vealed by a com­pany called DB Broad­cast, which, in 2004, put some in­for­ma­tion on­line to con­firm that it had the con­tract for serv­ing the de­tec­tor van fleet. It said that one van was ser­viced each week and the whole lot ev­ery six months. Even with hol­i­days and the like, that would sug­gest that there were then at least 20 vans.

How­ever, when in 2009, when it de­cided to add an­other fleet of vans to the ones it sup­pos­edly al­ready had, it bought five. Yes, five. One might rea­son­ably in­fer that it pre­vi­ously had five, and this brought the two fleets up to a stag­ger­ing ten, to cover the roughly 30 mil­lion UK house­holds. A pic­ture orig­i­nally placed on DB Broad­cast’s web­site showed six vans in 2006, so a ball­park fig­ure of 10 to 12 might well be closer to the truth.

But any­one can have a van and put the words ‘ TV de­tec­tor’ on the side, so can they de­tect. Nu­mer­ous peo­ple who have worked on the vans have made on­line post­ings to the ef­fect that they con­tain noth­ing or at best some­thing that looks tech­ni­cal but does ab­so­lutely noth­ing.

Here is an ex­am­ple from the web­site www. bbctvli­cence.com, that did an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle on the va­lid­ity of the vans:

“I used to work for TV li­cenc­ing driv­ing around in the de­tec­tor van. It was full of fancy look­ing equip­ment for show only. NONE OF IT WORKED! They have a data­base of the houses with­out li­cences, which they got by se­lect­ing streets and look­ing at who HAS got the li­cence. The re­main­ing are tar­geted.”

But the most im­por­tant ev­i­dence that they’re a hoax came from the BBC it­self when re­ject­ing yet an­other Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest, and it ex­plained the logic of why it won’t re­veal this in­for­ma­tion.

“The BBC ex­plained that the num­ber of de­tec­tor vans in op­er­a­tion, the lo­ca­tion of their de­ploy­ment and the fre­quency is not com­mon knowl­edge. It re­lies on the pub­lic per­cep­tion that the vans could be used at any time to catch evaders. This per­cep­tion has built up since the first van was launched in 1952 and has been a key cost ef­fec­tive method in de­ter­ring peo­ple from evad­ing their li­cence fee.”

And re­ally re­veal­ingly: “The Com­mis­sioner recog­nises the im­por­tance the BBC places on the pub­lic per­cep­tion of the use of de­tec­tor vans, and he also recog­nises that dis­clo­sure of this in­for­ma­tion would change this per­cep­tion.”

So if we knew they didn’t do any­thing, we’d be less likely to get a li­cence, right? I can’t see how else to in­ter­pret that state­ment, how­ever the BBC chooses to dress it up. In short, I think the vans ex­ist, but there aren’t many, and they are just vans.

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