The war on photographers - you're all al Qaeda suspects now

Police, camera, (illegal) action


Analysis When you hear the phrase "helping police with their inquiries", does an image of dedicated selfless citizenry instantly spring to mind? Or do you wonder whether the reality is not slightly more sinister?

How about "voluntarily handing over film to the police".

Stephen Carroll is a keen amateur photographer, with an interest in candid portraiture: "street photography", he calls it. In December 2007, he was in the centre of Hull taking photos.

Unfortunately for him, his actions were spotted by two local policemen. They stopped him in the middle of Boots and asked him to accompany them outside. There they told him that he had been taking photographs of "sensitive buildings". One said: "I am taking your film".

Mr Carroll requested an explanation. He asked whether he was "obligated" to hand over the film. In vain! Every time he asked, back came the same response: "I am taking your film". Robocop is alive and well and apparently working in Humberside.

When he eventually handed over his film, he was asked to turn out his pockets and to show what other films he had on him.

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The police filled out one of their ubiquitous forms – this one labelled "Stop and Search" – and went on their way. On the form, quite clearly written, are the words: "seized films".

What are we to make of this? A statement from Humberside Police re-iterated that Mr Carroll had been photographing sensitive buildings. In remarkably bullish mood, they added that they "would expect other officers within the force to act in the same manner if given a similar situation."

But what situation?

According to Mr Carroll, the police subsequently amended their story to say they had stopped him because of concerns that he was photographing young people. They did not mention this at the time because they were worried he might be embarrassed.

They also told him that, contrary to what was said at the time, they had received no complaint from any member of the public. Nor had he been subject to a "stop and search" - merely a "stop and talk".

This is seriously alarming stuff. It is bad enough on its own – but coupled with a long catalogue of other incidents that have been reported recently, it begins to look like a pattern.

There is the Ipswich photographer, Phil Smith who went out to snap ex-EastEnder Letitia Dean turning on the Christmas lights in Ipswich. He was stopped by two Special Constables: told he needed a licence; that photographing the crowd was against the law; and finally required to delete the pictures already taken.

Then there’s the freelance photographer who attempted to photograph the tragic aftermath of a young woman killed by a falling tree at Tower Bridge in London. According to Jeff Moore of the British Press Photographers Assocation, Police at the scene were very intimidating: they demanded that she hand over her memory card or else they would confiscate her cameras and she would probably never get them back.

And on and on and on and on.

Amateurs and professionals alike are becoming seriously worried. Chris Cheesman, News Editor of Amateur Photographer, is compiling a list of incidents where Police or other officials have threatened photographers.


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