u2018Amateur photography is not banned,u2019 declared Editor FJ Mortimer on the cover of Amateur Photographer (AP) after the outbreak of the Second World War.
?Amateur photography is not banned,? declared Editor FJ Mortimer on the cover of Amateur Photographer (AP) after the outbreak of the Second World War (see below).
The Editor?s reassurance to readers followed government warnings not to photograph subjects of war-time importance, such as anything related to the military.
Given the spate of recent clashes with police forces, photographers could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that photography is just as endangered in 21st century Britain.
Reports to AP suggest that the cloud of suspicion hanging over photographers has reached bursting point in recent months.
A photojournalist recently won thousands of pounds in an out-of-court settlement after clashing with police in 2006.
Fast forward 18 months and police reportedly forced a press photographer in Birmingham to delete his digital images after the officer objected to having his picture taken.
The gathering storm comes as camera-wielding members of the public continue to fall victim to over-zealous security guards in shopping centres ? one of whom was a 79- year-old man taking a picture of his wheelchair-bound wife, according to reports emerging from Hull a few weeks ago.
Shopping centres are private property and subject to their own laws. Far more worrying to the enthusiast is increasing evidence of such confrontations spilling into public places where, by law, photography is allowed.
Photography rights campaigners are furious at what they see as unfair behaviour by officers dealing with photo enthusiasts.
Among them is Austin Mitchell MP, a keen photographer who, on 11 March, petitioned fellow politicians on the matter in the House of Commons.
His Early Day Motion (EDM) has called on the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a ?photography code? to be used by police officers ?on the ground?.
The public?s collective sense of suspicion is on course to be raised further with the latest phase of the police?s anti-terror campaign, launched in February.
Published in newspapers and transmitted on radio, a large part focuses on the public?s awareness of people with cameras acting suspiciously.
?If you suspect it, report it,? is the police?s key message.
At its heart, Mitchell?s EDM asserts that police action unfairly targets those enjoying legitimate ?street photography?.
Among those falling prey to police powers was amateur photographer Steve Carroll, who told us how police confiscated his films following complaints from members of the public.
Carroll had been experimenting with street photography in Hull city centre before Christmas.
Of wider significance was what followed. Humberside police issued a blanket statement warning all photographers embarking on ?covert? street photography that they should expect to be stopped and quizzed.
Pete Jenkins, vice-chair of the Photographers Sub Committee at the National Union of Journalists, condemned the force?s stance: ?Taking photographs in a public place in the UK is still not a prohibited act, nor is it any way against the law. We as citizens expect the police to uphold the law, not to make it up as they go along,? he told AP.
Jenkins added: ?While I can understand that anyone acting in a covert and underhand manner might excite suspicion in today?s anti-terrorist climate, one does have to put this into context. A camera, digital or otherwise, is just that. It is not a weapon of terrorism or an anti-social tool, nor is it the badge/weapon of the paedophile.?
Met pledges to act on ?concerns?
Among those fearful of the impact of the police?s latest anti-terror publicity is Andy Barton, a keen photographer from Cheshire, who visits London regularly.
He emailed the Metropolitan Police to complain about the adverts, concerned that those who take photos in public will become terror suspects.
Mark Lawrence, a detective chief inspector at the Met?s Directorate of Professional Standards replied to Barton, saying: ?We have to balance a genuine terrorist threat, which concentrates on attacking transport networks, but at the same time take account of the human rights of individuals who want to take photographs or enjoy an innocuous hobby.?
However, Lawrence pledged to raise photographers? concerns with all police boroughs within the force ?to encourage officers at ground level to adopt a more sensible approach when considering whether to stop photographers and other Londoners who are in the vicinity of transport networks?.
Lawrence also promised Barton that he would pass on his complaint to the Counter Terrorism Command unit, which is in charge of the current publicity project.
In a statement the Met told AP: ?The purpose of the campaign is not to raise fear, but to raise awareness of the anti-terrorism hotline.
?Research shows that when thinking about terrorism, the public often think about the point of attack and not the planning stages of an attack. By getting people to report suspicious activity the police can take appropriate action and disrupt any plans.?
The Home Office declined our request for a minister to be interviewed about the police?s recent campaign. Neither has it released, nor ? according to a spokesman ? would it ever publish figures to show the number of terrorists caught on the basis that they were first seen taking pictures for surveillance purposes.
The spokesman rebuffed the suggestion that more photographers were being stopped, telling us that this was ?anecdotal? before adding: ?There is nothing in it.?
A Home Office statement read: ?This is an operational decision that is made by the police. Any complaints against such decisions should be directed to the chief officer of the individual police force concerned or the Independent Police Complaints Commission.?
Police have the power to stop and search photographers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
But officers are using the act far too often, according to civil rights group Liberty, whose legal director James Welch told us: ?These are meant to be exceptional powers, which allow the police to act without any grounds for suspicion. It is incredibly important that anti-terror stop-and-searches never become an ?everyday? police power because of the negative long-term impact on community relations and, apparently, the Arts.?
PCSOs under fire
Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) are often at the centre of the controversy, more often for an apparent lack of training over people?s rights to take photographs in public.
However, one recent incident has boosted the prospect of the matter being discussed in the corridors of power.
It concerns Lancashire-based photo enthusiast John Kelly, who told us that a PCSO in Blackpool ordered him to delete his pictures (see News, AP 8 March).
Kelly was so disgusted that he contacted his local MP Michael Jack, who has since written a letter to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, seeking a response.
Special Constables ? volunteers who support the police on a part-time basis ? sparked a similar complaint last November when they banned amateur photographer Phil Smith from taking pictures at the Christmas light switch-on in Ipswich. Suffolk Police later admitted the mistake and issued a full apology.
Photography is not outlawed now and neither was it prohibited during wartime, as AP?s issue dated 18 October 1939 explained: ?Many amateur photographers in different parts of the country appear to have gained the mistaken idea that since war was declared photography has been ?banned? altogether.?