ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, says it will re-issue guidance on the law regarding press photographers and the use of anti-terror legislation.
The move comes after a meeting between the chairman of ACPO's media advisory group, Andy Trotter, and Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, following two incidents in which photographers were threatened with arrest while reporting on separate police incidents.
On 31 July, Carmen Valino, working freelance for the Hackney Gazette, was forced to delete images of a crime scene after a police sergeant argued that she was disrupting an investigation despite being behind a police cordon. And earlier the same month, the British Transport Police was forced to admit one of its community support offices had acted wrongly when he ordered photojournalist James Mackay to dlete images of an arrest at Waterloo station.
The guidelines state that, “Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record. It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police”. It also says: "Once images are recorded, we have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence."
However, BJP editor Simon Bainbridge is deeply sceptical that the re-issued guidance will make any difference, as ACPO promised to do the same thing last December, and yet that has done little to deter officers on the ground from wilfully misusing their powers to stop press photographers going about their lawful business, while innocent enthusiasts continue to be a target for unwarranted police attention.
“Is this just ACPO playing lip service, or do chief police officers lack the will or the command to get through to the rank-and-file that they do not have the right to confiscate equipment, delete images or detain photographers except in the most exceptional circumstances?
“Despite numerous promises to get the message through, countless reports in the media, and the European Court of Human Rights finding that the use of Section 44 to stop-and-search people is illegal, we are still getting almost weekly reports that little has changed. Indeed, there appears to be a culture of wilfull ignorance about the law regards to relations with the media, and photographers in particular, and officers continue to misuse their powers without impunity.
Bainbridge says the police’s targeting of photographers has also given impetus to security personel to act beyond their powers and force the deletion of images they wrongly believe to be illegal. In an incident earlier this month, a tourist (who happened to be a professional fashion photographer in the Netherlands) says he was treated “like a criminal” for taking pictures of his wife in Coventry's West Orchards shopping centre after a security guard insisted he delete the images, apparently thinking he was acting under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Such incidents are typical of the culture of fear and suspicion of photographers in the UK, says Bainbridge.
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