Friday, 10 April 2009


I have blogged about this before, but it has reared its ugly head again, The Register has an article about print display worker Piers Mason, who was stopped and questioned about his photographic activities last week.

He was in London during the G20 summit and took a photograph of a film crew outside the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in Bishopgate; the police approached him and asked why he took the photograph.

“I saw a film crew setting up outside RBS and thought that would make an interesting picture. The next thing I knew, three police officers approached me and asked me to explain what I was doing. According to them, this was to ‘investigate suspected crime, disorder or anti-social behaviour’."

The “excuse” used by the Police was PACE Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
“any stop must be based on reasonable suspicion and not "on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in criminal activity.”

About twenty minutes later he was allowed on his way clutching a form that confusingly stated he had been asked to "action per actions": after police logged his personal details, checked them against the Police Computer, and finally entered his name and details into a "Stops Database”.

Section 44 of the terror act gave Police Constables the right to stop and search individuals and vehicles where they believe that such a search is "expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism". These powers apply to "designated areas,” which the Met confirmed last night currently cover the whole of London, subject to review of this status on a 28-day basis.

But because Piers Mason was approached under the “stop and account” process which has been formalised under PACE using “reasonable suspicion” the terror act was not invoked and it seems that the police had every right to question Mr Mason.

It also seems that the terror act and PACE are beginning to meld together, using parts of each to justify accounting to the police for a persons presence in London, Mr Mason was not about to commit “crime, disorder or anti-social behaviour” he merely took what he thought was an interesting photograph.

Tory MP and Assistant Chief Whip John Randall extracted an admission from the Home Office that it was an issue in need of further review House of Commons Hansard Debates for 01 Apr 2009 and catalogued a series of incidents in which police or Community Support Officers had stopped individuals taking photographs in the street and required them to desist or to delete photographs taken. Such a requirement, if true, would be unlawful and possibly open the police officer in question to criminal charges.

The incidents that John Randall describes are at the extreme end: they involve police over-stepping the mark and requiring members of the public to hand over film or delete film despite the fact that no such power exists. This is confirmed by existing police guidelines

In response, Home Office Under-Secretary Shahid Malik agreed that the incidents described were regrettable and that counter-terror legislation was not intended to be used in this way. Section 44 of the Terror Act 2000 gave Police Constables the right to stop and search individuals and vehicles where they believe that such a search is "expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism".

We know that the Met is under pressure, but incidents like these and the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 summit, is extremely worrying, because it looks as if the Met is using the law to suit its own purposes, maybe for gathering of intelligence or control over the public.

The police are there to “protect and serve” not to use dubious “grey area” powers to obtain personal information from someone who just took a photo of a film crew.

This is something that needs to be investigated by Parliament, and a clear and sensible solution found, because it smacks of Orwell, and we are a country that is proud of our right to free speech and liberty, at least at the moment we have those rights.

"Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes." Robert Francis Kennedy


NHS Behind the headlines

Angus Dei politico


1 comment:

CherryPie said...

It is rather worrying when photography is one of the things I love doing.