Didn’t you get the memo?

© Grant Smith 2009

Last week the Independent ran a front page story about the police harassing photographers using Terrorism laws, others soon picked up the story and the day after Head of ACPO Media Advisory Andy Trotter was on the BBC Breakfast sofa with the Independent journalist who had been stopped & searched. He was forced to admit defeat and issued new guidelines to ACPO Chief Constables:

Section 44 Terrorism Act and Photography

Adverse media coverage of the police service use of Section 44 powers, when dealing with issues relating to photography, have recently hit the headlines again and suggests that officers continue to misuse the legislation that is available to them. The evidence also suggests that there is confusion over the recording requirements of ‘Stop and Account’ and the actual police powers of ‘Stop and Search’. The purpose of this letter is to clarify the legislation and guidance in relation to these matters.

Stop and Search
Section 44 gives officers no specific powers in relation to photography and there is no provision in law for the confiscation of equipment or the destruction of images, either digital or on film.

On the rare occasion where an officer suspects that an individual is taking photographs as part of target reconnaissance for terrorist purposes, then they should be treated as a terrorist suspect and dealt with under Section 43 of the Act. This would ensure that the legal power exists to seize equipment and recover images taken. Section 58A Counter Terrorism Act 2008 provides powers to cover instances where photographs are being taken of police officers who are, or who have been, employed at the front line of counter terrorism operations.

These scenarios will be exceptionally rare events and do not cover instances of photography by rail enthusiasts, tourists or the media.

The ACPO/NPIA Practice Advice, published in December 2008, is again included with this letter and specifically covers the issues surrounding photography. The guidance also includes the need for clear briefings on the use of Section 44 and it may be appropriate to include photography issues within those briefings.

Stop and Account
Encounters between police officers and PCSOs and the public range from general conversation through to arrest. Officers need to be absolutely clear that no record needs to be submitted to cover any activity that merely constitutes a conversation.

Only at the point where a member of the public is asked to account for their actions, behaviour, presence in an area or possession of an item, do the provisions of the PACE Act apply and a record for that ‘stop and account’ need to be submitted. Even at that point, such a discussion does not constitute the use of any police power and should not be recorded under the auspices of the Terrorism Act, for example.

Officers should be reminded that it is not an offence for a member of the public or journalist to take photographs of a public building and use of cameras by the public does not ordinarily permit use of stop and search powers.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Trotter OBE QPM
Chief Constable
Head of ACPO Media Advisory Group

Yet days later Architectural Photographer Grant Smith was Stopped & Searched in London after he refused to give his name (which he is perfectly within his rights to do) while photographing a church. He’s sent us this after it happened:

On a beautiful sunny day in London I was taking photographs of Wren’s steeple at the ruined Christ church, Newgate, which adjoins the building occupied by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

After about 20 minutes of taking photos, a security guard approached asking for ID and the purpose of photography. I refused to give any details. Shortly after a suited head of security came out to ask me the same questions under the pretence of ‘hostile reconnaissance’ . Again I refused. I had no obligation to provide corporate security guards any of this information as I was in a public space.

I moved away from the building, under the constant surveillance of the guard, and crossed the road to get a wider shot.

I was then approached by a PCSO who crossed the road and asked what me what was I doing, again I declined to give any information. He responded that if an ‘incident takes place, like a bomb going of,f in the near future and I hadn’t questioned you, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly.’

After his departure I heard police sirens coming from the east and west. and watched in stunned amazement as 3 police cars and a riot van arrived, all with flashing lights. They pulled up outside the entrance where the guard had approached me. 3 of them marched toward me and said they were responding to an ‘incident’. Apparently there was ‘…an aggressive male who had been in reception of the building taking photographs of the staff, and who refused to leave’.

I argued this with the police officer, saying that this was wrong. I was not in the building reception, I was not photographing staff, nor had I been asked to leave.
I was asked by police what I was doing and it was obvious I was taking photographs, but I initially declined to give any further information. During this questioning, one of the police officers was admiring my camera, and commented amusingly on my ‘I’m a photographer, not a terrorist’ badge.

My camera bag was searched for terrorist related paraphernalia (notebooks and maps I assume), despite my lame protestations.

The police officer again asked for my details as he produced his stop search form. When I said that I was not obliged to give the details, he said I would be physically searched, which did not sound like a very pleasant experience. So I gave my details and was not detained any longer.

All of this was because I declined to be bullied or intimidated by a security officer, who now have what appears to be the full backing of the police in their assessment of photographers.

Grant has been interviewed by ITV London Tonight and More4 News about the incident:

28 thoughts on “Didn’t you get the memo?

  1. gc

    The police are bad. Security guards are worse: what a bunch of blatant lying thugs.

    In the lobby of the building, taking photographs of staff? My god…

    1. josh hayes

      i have realised that all security in london or any part of the country try and stop you, when taking a photograph in a public place, i as an amateur photographer have been stopped by police and security, questioned and told to delete the photos i had just taken of a buildings reflection of another building.
      something must be done.

  2. Alistair Scott

    Plod is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And the Plastic Plods and security guards are even blunter.

    Anyone with half a brain could understand that potential terrorists have no need to photograph anything, particularly not openly and in full view.

    With Google Earth, Google Street View and the Ordnance Survey they can get all the information they want quite legally and unobtrusively.

    And to think that the money to pay for these half-wits comes mostly out of our own pockets.

  3. Ted

    Time after time the police force has shown that they do whatever they feel like and ignore orders from the nominal political superiors. The police will continue anyway, a typical sign of a police state.

  4. Londonarchaeologist

    I can’t help thinking some weird development in the whole social place of the photograph is underway, this is so widespread. One thing is it’s clearly related to the great rise in the use of the camera by surveillance: increasingly a weapon, it’s assumed therefore that, on the logic of the monopoly of violence, it should be restricted to use by authorities. By there must be more – the massive rise in the problem coincides with the generalisation of the camera. The more it’s part of ordinary life, the more a mildly different use, say, nothing to do with Facebook, the more threatening it seems to those out to impose the norm. My own little contribution to the cause is to include versions of my various run-ins on my fictional blog as they happen.

  5. Mark Doran

    I travelled to the then German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 80s and took many photos of trains, buildings and street scenes. I never had any trouble whatsoever and was never approach by police or anybody else. The atmosphere was very open and relaxed. And this was the so-called “police state” which was so vilified and demonised by the West. Happy days!

  6. notsofunnyguy

    I notice Mr Smith sports a rather dodgy looking beard – could this be the reason he arouses suspicion?! ;-)

    On a serious note, I too have a beard and I wouldn’t bother trying to take photos at certain locations in and around London. I just don’t want the potential hassle. You could say my appearance is that of a stereotypical terrorist, and I have almost always attracted the attention of security guards. However, I do, to a certain extent, have sympathy for them.

    You have to remember that the security guards (as well as the police) are most likely to be doing what their employer expects. They – security guards that is – are invariably not paid very well, and neither are they in a position to pick and choose what jobs they can do. If a security guard comes up to me, I just treat them as I would like to be treated if I were doing their job. At times, I have even voluntarily showed them my photos. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a peaceful life for everyone.

    Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not condone the way this situation is being handled by the police/PCSOs/security guards nor am I happy about the way it is affecting photographers and photography in general. But I do hope things can change for the better soon.

  7. CP

    Okay – I’m a photographer too – but WHY wouldn’t you give them your name?! For crying out loud – YOU ASKED FOR IT. Get a CLUE. The world is FULL of terrorism – just give them your F*cking name and all would have been fine – but NO – you had to go on a self-imposed “I’m not a Terrorist” mission – that’s DUMB. Lucky you didn’t get yourself shot. JUST GIVE YOUR F*CKING NAME NEXT TIME AND YOU WOULDN’T HAVE THE COPS CALLED ON YOU!

    1. Noname

      Your name and identity is yours – not theirs. Why should you give up your privacy and liberty to go about your lawful business without harrassment? Read some history books about totalitarian regimes like the communists and the nazis and you’ll realise how people have ended up being tortured and killed because of their opinion or something they said or even a rumour when the authotrities had their name. They have no more right to your name than your shoes.

  8. Andreani

    Clearly this incident seems to have escalated beyond proportion, due to an initial confrontational exchange and subsequent retaliation on both sides: of course the right thing to do is to respond politely to anyone in authority and of course the proper course of action for those in authority is to act responsibly, with restraint, and with common sense. From reading and listing to the accounts on this incident in particular, both parties seem to have contributed to the ultimate outcome.

    I think one of the issues more worthy of study is the more general one, touched by other commentators above – as a society we seem to have developed a fear and loathing of photography and its potential to somehow be an instrument of evil; whether it’s concerned with photographing areas of city centres or school children at a school fete. It’s the attitude which provokes the “lone MAN with camera equals possible terrorist threat or possible paedophile” suspicion which I detest.

    And I don’t for a moment believe that it’s a case that in the past we could photograph more freely and without hindrance, because I don’t think we necessarily live in a more brutal world today; London in the Blitz certainly wasn’t a “gentler” age. Our fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers simply didn’t have to live with attitudes of ‘default suspicion’ generated by the act of raising a camera to an eye. Theirs was an age of courage and common sense; we must contend with compensation culture, suspicion and ignorance.

    But if that is indeed the world that surrounds us we should be more aware when we go about our business or practice our hobbies. When I an involved in commercial shoots in public places I take it as a matter of course that I need to adhere to rules and regulations to do with security, insurance, working conditions and so on, and I will comply with them and expect anyone I come into contact with to treat me professionally, courteously and respect, if for no other reason than I believe it’s the right and proper thing to do.

    But put me in a position where I might be accused of doing something I wasn’t, like a terrorist, or being something I’m not, like a paedophile, and I will look you straight in the eye, laugh, continue to take photographs, and defend myself legally and physically if need be…. ah, perhaps that’s what got Mr Grant into trouble….

  9. Jon

    I’m Sorry but Grant you were being an idiot. This all could have been quickly cleared up if you had just told the security guards and the police politely what you were doing. Actions like this just give photographers a bad name and are likely to cause more issues in the future as this just encourages people to dislike photographers. Get off your high horse and remember there are people trying to blow this country up so everyone has to be slightly flexible. It’s not like they were trying to stop you taking photographs. People being arrested or searched when they are doing and acting correctly is wrong but in this instance you deserved to have been searched for being impolite and awkward with the police. They have a hard enough job to do as it is, without right on idealistic idiots like you.

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  11. George

    Jon raises an interesting point and, in the wider scale of things, he is absolutely right. However, Grant is also in the right.

    Security guards employed by a private company call the Police in the City of London … who knows what language they used to describe the photographer – they could have said anything, hence the arrival of so many officers – and especially in the City.

    However. you are not obliged to surrender either your private or documents to a fellow civilian, whether you’re on public property or not. The only people who have access to such paperwork are the Police.

    Grant did not (and did not) tell the security guards WHO he was but a quick hand gesture to what he was taking the photographs of might have calmed the over-zealous guards down.

    Here in France we, like everyone else in the same global profession, hold Press Cards. I have never surrendered my papers to a privately employed security guard – and will continue to do so in the future. On several occasions I have been approached in an aggressive manner and have stood my ground. They have demanded to see my papers, to which my reply was “If my being here poses either you or your employers a problem, then I’d rather rang the Police as you have no jurisdiction over what I can or cannot do in a public area”. Yes, maybe it is a bit childish of me to act like that but I’ll be b***ered if someone can stop me from working in a public place without the proper authority.

    On each and every occasion I have been stopped by the Police, I immediately gave them my Press Card, answered their questions and have been allowed to carry on …

  12. Equiphoto

    I always carry business cards with me, hey, maybe I can sell those pictures to the public relation dept of the place I’m taking pictures – maybe even be hired in the future.

    But the rea issue here is that I could give them ANY card, any other photographer’s card, yet they accept it as OK, and let me go about my business, if on public grounds, and in some cases even on private property…. e.g. so called private but public areas.

    Remember, YOU are a photographer out in the open enjoying life, think about ‘his’ little life

  13. Rupert Singleton

    Move to Asia, I did – you can shoot whatever you want there!. They like it even!.

    I do sympathise though, the situation in the UK. Alas, on security guards. Would you do such a lowly job? You can’t blame them being bored out of their wits with nothing else to do except get excited at saying “Oi, you, you can’t take photos here (sir)”.

  14. JohnDoe

    As private security guards have a habit of calling the police with fabricated details of events, is it time to follow Nightjacks guide for “law-abiding types who find themselves under suspicion or under arrest. It works for the bad guys so make it work for you.” The serving police blogger states you should get a counter allegation in straight away. Get on the phone, tell the police you’ve been harassed and called gay, fat, black etc….

    The blog has gone, but the guide is all over the internet. The first hit on google is http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2009/06/public_service_1.html

  15. RMS

    I was stopped last year for taking photographs of graffiti art at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank (London). Back then I was unaware that this was becoming more and more common and was shocked when told that I was being stopped under Section 44 of the terrorist legislation. I asked if I was required to give my details when asked and was told that I didn’t have to. What concerned me in addition to the stop was that if my name got on some list of terrorist suspects, I might have problems at airports or in other situations. I was very angry but kept very calm and afterwards learned as much as I could about the use of this anti-terror legislation and filed a complaint with Lord Carlisle’s office (the person who oversees this kind of legislation). Police act as though this is no big deal but it really is. Thank god for ‘I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist’ and other similar groups.

  16. Jim

    I dread to think how busy the police are outside Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Houses Of Parliment or Trafagar Square.

    A short while ago a friend of mine who owns a small store was held up at knifepoint, it took the police over two hours to get there. The police station is less than 300 meters away in the same road.

  17. David

    Fools! The whole point of having a right to right to exercise it. The right in question is the right to do legal activities in public without having to justify oneself to (a) other citizens, such as private security guards, or (b) police.

    The interviewer seems to have missed this point completely. There are reasons the laws are written as they are — the history of having to “justify oneself” is rather oppressive.

    Remember, private security guards are private citizens without extra powers. Their uniform or badge is something they bought, not a marker given by the state to indicate special powers. The police are very, very different in that respect. Legally, those of you who are arguing that the photog must identify himself are saying, legally, that any moron can demand your ID and ask you to leave a public space. Really.

  18. Heroh

    I’m shocked and appalled by some of the comments I’m seeing here. I’m neither from your country, nor am I a photographer, but this subject is of extreme importance.
    What I cannot get over is how in your national past you fought the evil Nazis – and yet now you’re sprinting towards accepting that type of governance.
    The ‘go along to get along’ routine with “any kind of authority” is such an incredibly amazing stance.
    What has happened in the last 100 years to make you so spineless? “Just give your name” indeed. PFAH!
    Next it will be ‘YOUR PAPERS” at gunpoint.
    In a ‘polite and civil society’ you wouldn’t have these type of fascistic laws that are targeting your law-abiding populace. It’s a laugh to think this is about weeding out terrorists.
    Please – fix yourselves, and quickly – your grandchildren depend on you!

  19. Deborah Irvine

    I would like to add to this infringement on public freedoms. As a photographer I have encountered several rebuffs from small-minded individuals whilst taking shots of buildings in very public areas such as high streets and town centres. My reminder for those who do not wish me to take photos of them is that I respect their wish but a greater power (CCTV) is already documenting their movements and they could find themselves as part of a criminal investigation (the last bit if they are really stoppy!). My second point is that my daughter is studying for GCSE Art and Design and needs to take her own photographs for her project – she has also had problems when taking shots of railway stations and shopping areas.

  20. John

    Britain is no longer the country of Sir Winston Churchill! A mixture of helpless craven sheep and arrogant bullies. There aren’t enough other people.

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