ALMOST 95,000 drivers have been caught illegally going through Oxford’s bus gates in the past five years, new figures reveal.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch today released a report that also showed Oxfordshire County Council had received £3.3m in fines between 2008 and last year from the enforcement cameras it uses in High Street, Castle Street, George Street and Magdalen Street.

Big Brother Watch is calling for councils to stop using CCTV cameras as revenue raisers, but Oxfordshire County Council said they were crucial to help enforce the city’s traffic restrictions.

The report, Traffic Spies, also revealed that Oxford City Council last year bought a car fitted with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) equipment it uses at its car parks.

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, 94,217 motorists were caught breaking the ban on driving through the bus gates.

Big Brother Watch said the CCTV code of practice made it clear local authorities should use the cameras “sparingly” and only when “enforcement is difficult, sensitive or enforcement by wardens is not practical”.

Deputy director Emma Carr said: “Rather than tackling specific road safety issues head on, Oxfordshire County Council has stung motorists for more than £3m in fines, highlighting why the use of CCTV for parking enforcement should be banned.

“The Government should urgently investigate whether or not the council’s use of cameras to snoop on motorists breaches surveillance laws, particularly where a traffic warden sits in a control room looking for motorists to ticket.”

But Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Martin Crabtree defended cameras.

He said: “The bus gates are there to aid the city’s public transport system, and enforcement is there to discourage drivers from using this route. We would rather not issue penalty charges as that would mean there had been no infringements.

“The bus gates in Oxford city centre were introduced in 1999 for the benefit of the public transport system and enforced by Thames Valley Police. Police officers were able to stop vehicles in order to issue tickets, but the responsibility for enforcement passed to the county council in 2008.

“As our officers do not have the powers to stop vehicles, cameras are employed, as Big Brother Watch correctly state, ‘where other means of enforcement are not practical’.”

Details on the city council’s new ANPR car were not available yesterday.