Photographers: ’tis the season to be wary?

Suspicious subjects for photos this season include sunsets and Christmas lights. And be especially wary of using the “wrong” sort of camera or taking the “wrong” number of photos (details which are, as yet, not revealed to ordinary, law-abiding shutterbugs).

Two more photographers have been stopped by over-zealous police officers for taking photographs of public scenes, despite being within their rights to do so.

First, a BBC photographer was stopped outside Tate Modern while taking this atmospheric shot:

Jeff Overs, 48, was photographing sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral when a policewoman, with a community support officer, told him she was “stopping people who were taking photographs, as a counter-terrorism measure” and demanded his name, address and date of birth.

The stills photographer said it so enraged him he sent the policewoman away with a “flea in her ear” but not before he had been issued with an anti-terrorism stop and search form.

“I was outraged at such an infringement of my liberty,” he said. “I pointed out that nearly every other person walking along the South Bank was taking pictures of the view using their mobile phones and we had drawn her attention because we were using cameras.

“They said you could be doing a recce for a terrorist attack. which would have been a joke if it was not so sinister.” [London Evening Standard]

Then a Brighton man was stopped for taking photos of the Christmas lights in Burgess Hill Town Centre. Although Andrew White said he had only taken one or two photos, the Police Community Support Officers had expressed concern that he was “taking too many photos in a busy shopping area.”

Lord Carlile of Berriew, Liberal Democrat Peer and practising barrister, told the Independent:

The police have to be very careful about stopping people who are taking what I would call leisure photographs, and indeed professional photographers.

The fact that someone is taking photographs is not prima facie a good reason for stop and search and is very far from raising suspicion. It is a matter of concern and the police will know that they have to look at this very carefully.

Urban75 recently updated their guide to photographers’ rights and the law in the UK. The Metropolitan Police’s own photography advice is here.

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  • I don’t think any of this nonsense will stop until a police constable is prosecuted for violating the law. For some reason police people seem to be above the law.

    Deleting digital images, or ordering them deleted is destruction of evidence. Stopping and searching someone without “reasonable suspicion” is an illegal search.

    Of course the police seem to be immune to the law and apparently able to do and get away with anything they want. Not that I’m at all cynical or totally fed up with police excesses and overreaches.

    It’s starting to get to the point that as a law-abiding citizen I’m more afraid of the police and what they get up to than of any hypothetical terrorists. There’s more of them for starters and they have a lot more powers.

  • The answer is very simple. PCSOs have got to go. The idea has been a monumental failure. It’s unleashed large numbers of officious under -achievers onto our streets. They don’t have a job (except the ridiculous one of looking like they are doing something – laughably called “reassurance” policing) and they’re a nuisance.

  • As someone who quite often takes odd photos in odd places I’ve got no problem – in a world of crime and terrorism – with an appropriate person (e.g. a policeman) asking me what I’m doing.

    And having spoken to me has to fill in an appropriate piece of paper (probably in triplicate).

    It does not mean I’ve been arrested. It does not mean I’m a terror suspect.

    Deleting images is a different matter entirely.

    Incidentally, the only problem I’ve had recently of this nature was a school deputy head who told me not to photograph some buses. [Because they were carrying children – on a public road, some distance from his school.] And yes, he threatened to involve the police. Not wanting to waste police resources I acceded to his request. He actually asked me to leave the area – which I wasn’t willing to do.

    Had I declined his request, and he’d dragged a policeman halfway across the county to question a bus enthusiast I wonder who would have been charged with “wasting police time” ?

  • Well crewegwyn the school head should have been charged… but it would probably have been you. Of course… if you suspect that it would have been you, then that means you’ve implicitly confirmed that you know that the police are not respecting the rights of the public any more. While it’s polite to not take someone’s photo if they ask you not to, they can’t force you not to as long as you are both in a public place. Of course, being kids, the witch-hunters will be out in force and you’ll probably be lynched by daily mail readers in short order.

    Chris, it’s not just PCSOs. Kent police ( 2 plain-clothes police men, a WPC and a PCSO ) decided it would be a really good idea to arrest a man for “being too tall” because he was taking photos of the High Street. ( you can follow links to the photographer’s own blog from the article) In the end Kent police internal affairs actually decided that the police officers exceeded their authority. A very surprising, but refreshingly open and honest appraisal. What’s the bet though that the officers will get away with not so much as a couple of stern words or “training”?

    Why aren’t the police jailed/fined for breaking the law like everyone else? Surely illegally and forcibly depriving someone of their freedom and illegally searching them would get you a jail sentence if you weren’t a police officer? The investigating officer himself stated that the officers arrested the photographer for no reason more serious than “because they could”.

    Let’s see if Kent police can impress me once more and actually punish the offending officers properly.

  • Chris. The PCSOs in my local area have been excellent. They engage with the community. And yes they even solve crimes. More than half go on to become Police Officers.
    Your view must be a result of your experience. May be the problem is in either the recruitment criteria in different areas, or the way PCs are prepared to work with their PCSOs.
    Back to photography. I have been asked to stop taking photographs in a shopping centre, by a security guard, which it is legal for them to do. Although I have no right to stop them taking CCTV pictures of me.

  • here in the USA, we also have things like that going on, its getting a bit worse here in some places, I was told [by someone in security of one of the federal buildings], in downtown MIAMI-FLORIDA that there were certain buildings that it was in fact illegal to shoot, I asked where is it posted that i hadnt seen any signs …etc.
    He indicated there were none, and when I said there perhaps should be, he kinda went..w/e! here in the USA there is a site, you might look at to get more info on some of what is going here in the USA. >BR>so then, let me ask you this, is people around the area of where what you reported happened, going to stand for it or say enough and really do something about it, and get it stopped? is the BBC taking some sort of stand on this issue, and if so what do they, if anything, intend to do. I would really like to know.
    tony in south florida!

  • @Tony

    It is being noticed. Questions have been asked in parliament about it and (almost in direct response) the Met published their guidelines (link in the original piece). The problem is, it seems, that most policemen can’t read, or don’t bother to read, the guidance. There’s also the issues that essentially, every single council as their own police force mostly independent of all the others, so 90% of the police don’t get to see the Met guidance, and even if they did it’s the guidance for the Met, not their local police force.

    The issue has been quite heavily reported in non-mainstream press. The Register (which I linked to above) due to it’s irreverent and very anti-authoritarian style (towards almost everyone) and it’s catering to a Geek audience tends to lap these types of articles up.

    If you want a bit of satire from a year ago…

    @crewegwyn “It could be you…” in the article that prompted the satire…

  • Need to start prosecuting police for this sort of stuff or there really is no incentive for them not to use their privileged position to legal immunity whilst on the job to screw the public.

    Of course given they can get away with fatally shooting multiple unarmed people I think we may be trying to walk before we can stand up.

  • Herbert Brown 9th Dec '09 - 9:40am

    If the police are persecuting “one of the country’s leading architectural photographers”, imagine what life is like for these poor people:

  • Mark Wright 9th Dec '09 - 2:25pm

    As councillors for the city-center of Bristol (i.e. the touristy bit) this has been an issue over the last couple of years. It’s also involved privater security of shopping centres. It stems, ultimately from the absurd provision in the law. We shouldnt aim all the fire at the police, who are after all only doing exactly what we said they would do when the law was passed. We should aim fire at idiot Labour MPs who believed their own propaganda when they said that such laws wont be misused….

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