Exclusive: Croydon libraries' internet filth filters ban council's own website
Exclusive by Anna Edwards
RESTRICTED ACCESS: Library users have been banned from visiting news websites Photo No: CCRPM020908A04 by Paul Martyniuk (picture posed in Advertiser offices)
MISTAKEN: Laurence Nice insisted he had been looking for sites selling Mini cars, not child porn
PORN: Our splash exposing the libraries' poor filters in January
They were meant to bring Croydon's libraries bang into the 21st century, with high-speed internet access and the latest software.
The 267 new replacement computers were also meant to solve a seedier problem - that of some people using its old PCs to access internet child porn.
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So when the computers finally arrived, expectations were high - but there was one snag. To begin with users couldn't even access a range of innocuous websites - including the council's own - because of its highly sensitive internet filter, which is being rolled out at the same time.
Phil Brannon, who regularly uses the internet at the libraries, says the farce has been going on for about three weeks.
He said: "It's so irritating, it seems really random of the sites you can and can't visit.
"I know that some people haven't even been able to get onto the council's website.
"It's a bit of a rigmarole - international newspapers and radio stations are all banned.
"Why have they spent all this money and you can't use them properly?"
Mr Brannon, 66, from Woodside Green, South Norwood, says all the borough's libraries have suffered from the new sensitive software.
He said: "Normally the library is full of people using the computers, but the other morning I went in and it was very quiet.
"I think librarians are getting the brunt of others' anger, people only want to go on harmless sites, but nobody can."
Retired Mr Brannon said no one could tell him if, and when, the new PCs would be fixed.
He said: "It's been going on for weeks now, and I can't see it being fixed overnight."
But a library source said the problem was being looked into: "We're always on the receiving end of angry visitors, people don't seem to realise that with brand new computers there are going to be teething problems.
"It's not like we're sitting on our bums, we are trying to put it right - we've only had them a few weeks.
"We have to have a strong firewall, people might be looking at illegal sites or trying to hack into things."
In January, the Advertiser revealed that unemployed Laurence Nice, 53, had been banned from every Croydon library after looking at indecent pictures of children on the internet.
But Mr Nice blamed the council's filters, saying they should have blocked the porn when he innocently searched for cars using the phrase "mini models".
This week, the Advertiser visited the Central Library in Katharine Street to see which websites were now banned.
Among them were national newspapers, including The Times, News of the World, The Sun and the Mirror, which were all categorised as either entertainment - or in the tabloids' cases, pornography.
Fortunately, the filter isn't preventing access to the Croydon Advertiser's website, www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk.
A council spokeswoman said: "We are working intensively with our internet provider, the London Grid for London to diagnose and fix it.
"In the meantime we are manually unblocking sites as and when they are brought to our attention and would like to apologise to our users for this problem and assure them that we are doing our best to fix it as quickly as possible."
She added it was just coincidence the filter had been put in place at the same time the new computers were being delivered.