Pulling the law out of their… ahem.

The official War on Photographers wages on.

 

A photographer has been accused of being a peadophile and a terrorist because he likes taking photographs of….trams and buses.

Rob McCaffery, 50, is proud of his 30,000 photos of trams and coaches but after being interrogated twice in 12 months he fears the time may have come to hang up his camera.

The credit controller, from Gloucester, says he now suffers “appalling” abuse from the authorities and public who doubt his motives.

The bus-spotter, officially known as an omnibologist, said: “Since the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown.

This kind of behavior is, sadly, becoming increasingly common in the UK, as this poster by the MET demonstrates (and yes, that is a real poster).

What’s interesting, in all cases, is that photography – whether it’s of buses, people, children or buildings – is perfectly legal on the streets of London, but the Police don’t seem to understand this simple fact. Indeed, in the example cited above – and this is just one of many that have been reported recently – the police just don’t seem to get it.  This was the response of the Gloucestershire Police:

“If a member of the public becomes suspicious of an individual taking photos in public and makes a complaint to a police officer, the officer will first discuss the matter with the photographer.”

It may just be me, but surely the officer should first discuss the member of public to see why that member of public is suspicious of an individual taking photographs in public.  The way this is worded suggests that the Gloucestershire Constabulary tend to agree that taking photographs in public is, indeed, a suspicious act.

This “default to suspicious” problem is then compounded by the Gloucestershire spokesperson being apparently ignorant of police powers:

“Normally the individual is more than happy to disperse any suspicion by showing an officer their photos and one of the benefits of digital cameras is that this can be done on the spot.

Bear this in mind: The police position is that where a photograher is happy to disperse suspicion, he shows them the photographs on the camera.  This is important.  The police then go on to say:

“However, if the officer remains suspicious as to the content of the images or the photographers intentions they have the authority, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to seize the camera and arrest the individual.”

Okay.  So we have an activity being undertaken that is not illegal.  The default position of the police when dealing with a photographer is that they are immediately held under suspicion if a member of the public complains about a photographer taking photographs.  If the person doesn’t show them the photographs on the camera, the policeman will remain suspicious and the images will be seized under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.  This – according to the Gloucestershire Constabulary is legal, right, proper and above board.

But that’s not what the police guidelines on the PACE act say.

The Gloucestershire Constabulary website has a link to a website, “askthepolice.co.uk” aka, “Police National Legal Database”.  It’s FAQ on the PACE act can be found here, and states:

The grounds for stop and search that concerns members of the public mostly, is the grounds that the officer must have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the person is in unlawful possession of, or has unlawfully obtained an article, or is a terrorist, or to prevent an act of terrorism.[my emphasis]

In other words, the police can stop and search a person if they have reasonable grounds to believe they are carrying a proscribed weapon, or if they have reasonable grounds to believe that person is a terrorist.  The police PACE guidelines can also be found on the web here (pdf), which states, in part:

1.2 The intrusion on the liberty of the person stopped or searched must be brief and detention for the purposes of a search must take place at or near the location of the stop.

… 

1.5 An officer must not search a person, even with his or her consent, where no power to search is applicable….The only exception, where an officer does not require a specific power, applies to searches of persons entering sports grounds or other premises carried out with their consent given as a condition of entry [my emphasis]

2.1 This code applies to powers of stop and search as follows:

 (a) powers which require reasonable grounds for suspicion…that a person is a terrorist.

(b) …based upon a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place or that people are carrying dangerous instruments of offensive weapons…

(c)…based upon a consideration that the exercise of one or both powers is expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

(d) powers to search a person who has not been arrested in the exercise of a power to search premises.

 …

2.2 … Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors alone without reliable supporting intelligence or information or some specific behaivour by the person concerned.

 …

2.10 If, as a result of questioning before a search, or other circumstances which come to the attention of the officer, there cease to be reasonable grounds for suspecting that an article is being carried of a kind for which there is a power to stop and search, no search may take place.

 …

2.11 There is no power to stop or detain a person in order to find grounds for a search.

Do feel free to read the guidelines through in full, it’s enlightening reading.

The only authorisation given in PACE for a stop and search, then, is if the officer has reasonable grounds – based on good intelligence – to believe that the person is a terrorist, is involved in serious violence, or is carrying prohibited weapons.  Furthermore, they are specifically prohibited from allowing a person to show the officer photographic images on a digital camera of their own free-will unless they have the specific authority to stop and search.  Which they don’t.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but this would strongly suggest to me that the Gloucestershire Constabulary’s official policy is not – as they claim – authorised by the Police and Criminal Evidence act. The Gloucestershire Constabulary’s official policy with regards to photographers is actually to break the law.

Incidentally, if you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, photographers could be terrorists.  After all, they may be scoping a building for a terrorist attack”.  They aren’t. Terrorists simply don’t work that way.  Peadophiles don’t work that way. This is simply hysterical ignorance on the part of the police and the public.

 

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