Police Community Support Officers have been conspicuous by their absence around Westminster following widespread criticism of police misuse of anti-terror laws to stop photographers.rnrn

St Pauls, photographers

Picture: On Saturday – the day after police policy was blasted in the press – AP joined campaigners outside the Tate Modern gallery in London, where, just a few days earlier, a BBC photographer had been stopped under anti-terrorism laws. The photographers were able to take pictures, unhindered by police. Credit: Mo Baig

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have been conspicuous by their absence around Westminster following widespread criticism of police misuse of anti-terror laws to stop photographers.

PCSOs regularly patrol the South Bank – normally in pairs – especially along the stretch from Westminster Bridge to Lambeth Bridge.

Amateur Photographer (AP) news editor Chris Cheesman, who walks the route on his way to work, said: ‘There are early signs that media coverage may have already had some impact but it is too soon to say whether or not this is just a temporary reaction to the negative press the police have received in the past few days.

‘I walk along the South Bank, opposite the Houses of Parliament, on most days and this is the first time police have deserted the South Bank since last winter’s heavy snow. This morning there was not a police officer or a PCSO to be seen from Lambeth Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge. Let’s hope the authorities have seen common sense at last.’

The news comes just days after photographers’ ongoing campaign to defend their right to take pictures in public led to extensive coverage in newspapers, on TV and on radio last week.

The issue was thrust into the limelight largely as a result of two recent high profile cases that prompted the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to warn forces nationwide not to use anti-terror laws to stop photographers.

Independent newspaper journalist Jerome Taylor last week reported how he was quizzed while taking photos of the Houses of Parliament.

And BBC photographer Jeff Overs complained to the Met Police after being stopped while taking pictures of St Paul’s Cathedral.

However, John Tracy, chief executive of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers (BFP), urged caution: ‘While the warning from ACPO is welcome, similar messages have been issued in the past, to little effect. However, it is hoped that the constant repetition will begin to get through to the officer on the street.

‘Certainly this latest warning is quite strong and repeats what the BFP has been saying all along that is: “Officers and community support officers? should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.” All we need now is for the bobby on the beat to take note.’

The Metropolitan Police this morning appeared to play down any suggestion that it has pulled its officers from tourist landmarks as a ‘direct result’ of media coverage.

A spokeswoman told us: ‘We would not reduce our presence because we are under media pressure.’

On Saturday – the day after police policy was blasted in the press – AP joined campaigners outside the Tate Modern gallery in London, where, just a few days earlier, the BBC photographer had been stopped under anti-terrorism laws.

The photographers (pictured above) were able to take pictures, unhindered by police.

READ ACPO’s WARNING TO POLICE CHIEFS IN FULL HERE

AP rights watch campaign

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