A SECRET decision to bug Surrey Heath Council meetings has sparked "Big Brother" fears among Labour members.

They are calling on the controlling Tory group to come clean about the reasons for tape recording three committee meetings.

The Labour members say the council was never consulted about the decision to record the proceedings of meetings on tape.

They fear there are sinister reasons behind the move which, in their view, may infringe the Data Protection Act.

Labour group leader Melanie Longdon said on Monday: "What they are doing is tantamount to bugging.

"It was apparently only ourselves and the Liberal-Democrat members who had been kept in the dark about the decision."

She first learned that tape recorders were in use when an announcement was made at last week's planning applications meeting.

It then emerged that a meeting of the executive committee, and a planning meeting at Chobham Youth Centre, had also been tape recorded.

Coun. Longdon is demanding to know why members weren't offered a copy of the tape recordings immediately after the meetings.

"How do we know they haven't been doctored since the meetings?" she said. "The council has gone down a very dangerous route in my opinion."

Council leader Moira Gibson said on Monday that the decision to tape record the meetings was taken by chief executive Barry Catchpole.

"He regarded it as an operational matter which did not need to go before the council," she continued.

She denied there was anything sinister behind the decision, and said the recordings were an attempt to provide a more accurate account of proceedings at meetings.

"It was done as an experiment, and if we feel it has merits then we will put it before the council for discussion," she said.

Councillor Gibson, a Tory, denied that members of the executive, and the planning applications committee, had been kept in the dark about the recordings.

"I told the executive that the meeting was being recorded," she said. "And the chief executive says that the chairman made an announcement at the planning applications meeting at Chobham, although the chairman can't remember telling those present."