Tuesday, 13 May 2008

I fought the law...guess who won?!

For a long time the authorities has told us to be vigilant against potential terrorists, report 'suspicious' looking people, perhaps someone taking photographs in public places, a guy with a beard, who knows?

To instill this climate of fear is very practical for the police when they want to interrupt a professional photographer in their work. They can simply threaten you (or anyone actually) with arrest for suspicion of terrorism, or, as in my case last year, taking the moral high ground and illegally confiscating my camera.

I was on my way to a job when I happened upon an accident scene in which a pedestrian had been killed by van. Horrible as it is to witness, it is still news and something which it is my job to report on. I parked up, got my camera and walked over to the police cordon. It had happened a while earlier, technicians, traffic cops and paramedics were all present, traffic was closed off. The body was laying in the middle of the road, covered by a blanket, so there was no way of identifying the person.

I did as I should, approached the nearest officer, produced my press ID and got the all clear. I spent maybe 15 minutes at the south end of the cordon before trying to find a way to the north side. Once there I was just about to take some more picture when all of a sudden my camera was snatched from my face and pried out of my hands by a real swine of a cop. I'm sure you know the (stereo)type...and this was it.

Anyway, I protested and told him of my rights - whether you're a professional snapper or not doesn't actually matter - everyone has the right to photograph in public as long as you don't obstruct the police in their work. He thought that I should consider the victims of the deceased though, taking the moral high ground and deciding that a normal traffic cop also has the right to adjust citizens moral code. Bah humbug. I find it hard to take moral advice from a police officer who doesn't even know how to perform his own duties.

He walked off with my camera, I called my editors who called his superiors, and as soon as the officer in charge at the scene found out what this swine had done, my camera was magically back in my possession! Even then he insisted to make a nuisance of himself by walking in front of me so that I couldn't get a clear view of the scene.

The whole thing turned into meetings with the police, 'would I like to press charges?', they asked me. Damn right I want to! to which they pleaded that if the cop was found guilty, he would stand to loose his job, and he had a family to support.

I carefully weighed my options...after all I had actually got the pictures that I needed before his intervention, so in the end I decided that no matter how stupid this guy was, his kids didn't deserve it, so I let the whole thing slide with just an official apology to me from the Metropolitan Police, and the promise that all ground staff would get proper training on how to treat the press.

Victimising photographers in the war on terror is such stupid thing to do. According to BJP: More than 190 MP's have now signed up to an Early Day Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Austin Mitchell, urging the 'Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public's right to photograph public places, thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion'.

And now we are fighting back too, he he he. There's a few of them that are quite funny indeed.

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