26 Jul 2010
Rail staffers continue to use "anti-terrorism" powers they don't have
A blogger, who contacted BJP today, was detained last weekend by two Rail Enforcement Officers after taking photos, despite the fact that REO don't have the power to do so
"Last night I had the “pleasure” of being detained against my will not by the police but by Rail Enforcement Officers who operate on the South Eastern rail services. What did I do wrong? I took a picture of these Rail Enforcement Officers and when they asked me to see and then remove the pictures from my phone I refused."
With these words, Olly, a blogger for the You've Been Cromwelled blog, starts the account of another abuse of power by rail staffers, who questionned Olly's motives for taking photos of them. "While he was asking me these questions his colleague came to join him and he too was asking me similar questions. Each time I told them they had no authority over me, and that I hadn’t committed any crime, nor was I unruly, and I had a perfectly legitimate ticket which entitled me to be on the train. The younger of the two officers explained he had seen me taking pictures of them on the platform and they had the right to see those pictures because of their safety. I refused. The older one then said they did have the authority to do so because of the terrorism act. I asked which terrorism act and why were they enforcing that act if they were not police officers? They informed us they did have those powers."
After being detaine for 30 minutes, British Police officers showed up, confirming that Olly had done anything wrong and should not have been detained.
But Olly isn't the victim of a unusual incident. In fact, a week never passes without us hearing about rail staffers preventing photographers - whether amateurs or professionals - from taking pictures in their stations.
Technically, rail companies have a right to deny a photographer the right to take pictures in their stations and trains, as these are private properties. But, major companies have a tolerant policy towards photographers, as they have found it counter-productive to stop photographers from taking pictures, especially in the case of rail enthusiats. In fact, in October 2009, Virgin Trains started a campaign to inform photographers about their rights, and duties, when taking pictures in its stations.
The poster read: 'Virgin Trains welcomes rail enthusiasts and passengers who wish to take still or video images at our stations. We ask that you do not interfere with the flow of passengers and respect the wishes of both passengers and staff not to be photographed.'
It added that 'if you are filming for extended periods and/or using bulky equipment you should make yourself known to our station staff. Flash photography is not permitted at any time and the use of tripods should be avoided wherever possible. If you wish to use a tripod you should speak with the Station Team Leader to ensure that you are in a safe area'.
First Capital Connect has also started displaying similar signs in its rail stations in and around London.
However, staff at rail stations and in trains, including Rail Enforcement Officers, have no right to detain passengers, invoke anti-terrorism powers, look at and delete images taken. Only police officers can perfom any of these actions (with a court order to delete images), as British Transport Police members confirmed to Olly in this particular case.
At a time when police officers are being told to ease off on the use of anti-terrorism powers, it would be wise for rail companies and the British Transport Police to inform security guards and rail staff that they don't hold these powers and cannot invoke them. But in an increasingly paranoid society, will they listen?
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