Dee Doocey challenges Met Police Commissioner over treatment of photographers

Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson at City HallMetropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has said that although the Met has issued guidelines to officers about people taking photographs in public places, he cannot guarantee that officers will interpret them correctly.

His remarks came at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority at London City Hall on July 22, where Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Dee Doocey asked him,

Are you confident that your officers are aware of the law when it comes to members of the public taking photographs in a public place?

Stephenson replied,

We did go through a period where there was a spate of these types of incidents, and I admit I could not be confident at that time because they were happening.

And it was a matter of occasionally of mourning despair, of what we were doing on occasions around then. The problem is of course, getting all 33,000-plus police officers and all 4000-plus PCSOs to exercise the judgment at 9am in the morning then exercise with a degree more time and less conflict on occasions.

He went on to say,

We did a huge amount to get this message out, because it was causing such a disproportionate loss of reputation for us [the Met] that there is no restriction on people taking photographs in public places, or any other building, other than in very exceptional circumstances, and I think I made the public comment here and various other places: people actually come to London to photograph it! So it’s crazy not to do that. There’s no prohibition on photographing frontline uniformed staff. The act of taking a photograph itself is not usually sufficient to carry out a stop.

So we promulgated the guidelines, but I can’t guarantee you that those guidelines will be interpreted in the way that I or you or anybody else want them to be on every occasion, among all 37,000-plus uniformed officers.

Stephenson said that he was aware of the incident in June, in which police officers detained 16 year old Jules Mattsson for photographing the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford:

We do keep reissuing these instructions, we do try and get that level of discretion used correctly, but sometimes the level of discretion isn’t always right and I know in that incident whilst we have not received any official complaint at this time, the officers have received words of advice.

Dee Doocey, however, insisted that “words of advice” were not enough:

I suppose that’s one of the things that worries me a bit: “The officers have received words of advice” because I don’t know if you’ve actually listened to the recording, but it’s actually eight minutes of two of your officers intimidating somebody, and at one stage they say that they don’t need a law to stop them photographing, but much more worrying: that they don’t need a law to take them away. It is just – it’s not a question in my view of – it is so serious that I don’t think it should be somebody giving them words of advice, and I don’t also agree with you that it’s a question of officers using their discretion.

This was very black and white: two of your officers, who despite the fact that I know you’ve given the guidelines, because I’ve got a copy of it, who totally disregarded it and were either so completely ignorant of the law, or decided to ignore the law and then were just going to try and say that, you know, they knew the law better than the person they were talking to and they were very seriously intimidating. I find that quite worrying that I don’t think you’re taking that quite as seriously as I think you should be.

She added,

My comments are basically about the idea, “words of advice” because when we’ve done some other scrutinies we’re told that when other officers didn’t have their numerals on, no disciplinary action would be taken and I just see this as part of an ongoing problem. But on the wider front, a friend of mine is a very keen amateur photographer, and he tells me that most of the bulletin boards are just full of, not incidences anything like as serious as this, but of officers basically stopping and generally just not seeming to understand the law. So I just wonder if you would look again at this and make sure that there is – I don’t know how you communicate with officers… but clearly whatever communication there was, hasn’t actually got through to quite a lot of people and I think you need to just review it.

Sir Paul Stephenson said that he didn’t think it was the case that the message hadn’t got through to officers, but that he was “quite happy to review it.”

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2 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Jul '10 - 11:25pm

    I know in that incident whilst we have not received any official complaint at this time, the officers have received words of advice

    Dee Doocey, however, insisted that “words of advice” were not enough

    Groan. I’m just going to repost what I said in the linked comment thread back then.

    Publishing the story is one thing, but it is very important that he and anybody else who experiences similar things files a complaint with the IPCC and demands a full investigation (they’ll ask you whether you want one, and try to encourage you to let it be handled “internally” with promises of quick resolution, but they do have to investigate properly if you say so).

    There will be no disciplinary action and no other action of any other kind taken unless that complaint is filed. If it is filed, then they’re quite good at correcting these things, although it takes a few months. The system more or less works, but it’s very bureaucratic and encourages victims to stay quiet and not make a fuss. You have to push past that. They can and will sack every officer who does this and rewrite policies to stop it happening again, but only if a complaint is properly filed. No action can or will be taken without a complaint.

    Come on, people. File complaints. Every time somebody doesn’t file a complaint about this kind of abuse, they are complicit in letting the officers get away with doing it again. Nothing more than “words of advice” can result if you don’t file a complaint.

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