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.
Andrew Trotter OBE QPM
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: