A former Metropolitan Police officer has expressed 'embarrassment' after hearing that a BBC stills photographer was stopped while taking photos of a sunset, under anti-terrorism legislation.

Page One: BBC man in photo terror stop

Jeff Overs

Picture credit: Jeff Overs/www.jeffovers.co.uk

A former Metropolitan Police officer has expressed ’embarrassment’ after hearing that a BBC photographer was stopped while taking photos of a sunset, under anti-terrorism legislation.

BBC stills photographer Jeff Overs has lodged a formal written complaint against police after officers demanded his name, address and date of birth when they stopped him under the Met’s Section 44 ‘stop and account’ powers.

The officer told Jeff that he could have been taking the photos as part of a reconnaissance operation ahead of a terrorist attack.

The photographer branded the incident an infringement of his liberty.

Commenting on the story, ‘Pete C’ – who describes himself as a former Met officer and a keen photographer – wrote on the Evening Standard website: ‘All I can say is I’m embarrassed. If I were a terrorist doing a recce, I think Google Earth would be my first port of call and if I were to take photographs at ground level, I might do it surreptitiously – not with an SLR around my neck or on a tripod.’ He said that by ‘alienating’ law-abiding citizens and tourists going about their everyday business, this has – in some ways – handed a ‘victory’ to terrorists.

The drama took place at around 4pm outside Tate Modern on 25 November.

Jeff said he had been photographing a sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral when an officer told him she was ‘stopping people who were taking photographs, as a counter-terrorism measure’.

The photographer told us this morning: ‘I pointed out that it was a very busy tourist destination and that every other person had a small camera or iPhone and that we had been targeted because our equipment was more obvious.’

He added: ‘I was using a Nikon D700 and a small travelling tripod which was still in my bag when I was stopped. I was standing next to a young guy who had his tripod already set up. And because he had quite a lot of equipment to hand he caught the police woman’s attention.’

Lodging a complaint against the Met, Jeff wrote that – in his 30 year career – he has only ever been stopped twice before, once in Russia and the other time in Zimbabwe.

He added: ‘The suspicious nature of the officer and utter, pointless, stupidity of the whole affair has led me to question the nature of our democracy. Not to mention the waste of resources? The real irony is that London is covered by tens of thousands of CCTV cameras – we were probably on several cameras as we stood there? Access to the internet can produce the most detailed maps and images of the capital if one is actually engaged in reconnaissance (to quote the WPC) for a crime.’

Growing reports of such incidents over the past few years led Amateur Photographer magazine to launch a nationwide campaign to defend photographers’ rights.

The campaign has won backing from politicians and sparked similar campaigns elsewhere.

STORY CONTINUES HERE

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Page Two: Photographer’s complaint continued

In his letter to police Jeff continued: ‘Keen amateurs and professionals need to achieve better quality [photos] and so are inevitably going to stand around for a bit longer with more obvious equipment. That doesn’t mean we are criminals or planning attacks – it actually implies the exact opposite.’

The Met confirmed that it has received a formal complaint.

The force said that – following a review of terror laws earlier this year – Section 44 is now ‘only deployed at pre-identified significant locations, such as iconic sites and crowded places, and when specific operations have been agreed for specific areas’.

A Met spokesman told us today: ‘I’m fairly sure that it?s not going to be phased out completely.’

He said that the move is designed to enable such stops to be conducted ‘more effectively and more accurately’.

Commenting on its policy regarding ‘photography in public’ the Met added: ‘We encourage officers and the public to be vigilant against terrorism but recognise the balance between effective policing to protect Londoners and the rights of the media and the general public to take photographs.

Guidance around the issue has been made clear to officers and PCSOs through briefings and internal communications.’

Earlier this month AP’s news editor Chris Cheesman spoke to a police community support officer about the rights of photographers as part of research for a video captured on London’s South Bank. The PCSO claimed that officers had been told not to use Section 44 stops as often as before.

However, such incidents continue to take place and the messages given by officers as a reason for stopping a photographer are far from consistent.

Jeff appeared on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, telling viewers that the issue continues to affect professionals and amateurs alike.

To watch the interview click HERE.

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