North Wales Police are quite happy to assert that the law is what a police constable says it is – as opposed to what is written in statute. This is backed up by a polite note from their Press Department, and what appears to be a slightly less polite piece of online blogging from the Police Constable whose public behaviour raised this issue in the first place.
First the official response. Last week, El Reg wrote up the story of how a Motorcycle News (MCN) reporter attempted to take photos of a car identified by one of its occupants as a firearms vehicle. According to the police constable involved, he "would not be happy" with such a photograph being taken – because of its special status.
Steve Farrell, a reporter for MCN, can be heard repeatedly asking the police constable to explain what legal powers he has for preventing him from taking such a photograph - and the police officer can be heard repeatedly ignoring the question. Then, when Farrell takes a photograph, the police constable allegedly snatches the camera from his hands in order to view the picture.
It is very likely that this last action was unlawful, and we have asked North Wales Police to justify this action. Specifically, we asked about its legality. We forwarded a link to some detailed questions last week, and followed up with two key questions on Monday:
- What legal powers does a police officer have to stop someone taking a photograph in these circumstances?
- Does North Wales believe that grabbing a camera is a lawful act?
The response we received to our original questions came from a Superintendent Shaw, who wrote: "The officer had valid operational concerns about the vehicle being identified via the media and endeavoured to explain his concerns. Given those valid concerns the officer had to be guarded in the explanation he provided at the time. The officer did not object to being photographed and throughout sought the journalist's cooperation."
This appears to be the police equivalent of a public immunity defence, insofar as the Superintendent hints at the police officer having the power to act as he did – but that for reasons of operational concern, he needed to be guarded in any explanation he gave of the law. Again, it is not an answer to any of the key questions in respect of the legality or otherwise of the police officer's actions.
Meanwhile, the saga took a new and possibly career-suicidal turn at the weekend, as an individual purporting to be the police constable in question posted a series of comments on the MCN page containing the original story and let slip a few indelicate observations about attitudes to policing in North Wales.
The individual, posting under the username plasma10, writes: "if someone continues to do something when you've asked them politely not to several times then unfortunately a harder stance has to be taken".
The poster then goes on to add that the entire interaction had been misrepresented by the MCN journalist only making available a part of the recording of the event. He claims to have no axe to grind as far as motorcyclists are concerned, explaining that he himself is an avid biker.
He also adds, very clearly, that he is not a police spokesperson, and has not been asked to post the comments in question by his superiors.
A spokesperson for North Wales Police said: "Irrespective of whether or not the person commenting on the forum is a police officer, they make it clear that the views expressed are their personal views and not those of North Wales Police. "
A spokesman for MCN says they cannot confirm or deny any speculation in this regard. ®