A photographer claims a police officer used offensive remarks and twice stopped him taking pictures of people queuing outside the London Palladium.

Picture: Having put away his Leica, Steve Smith captured this scene later using his iPhone

Steve Smith, a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, was left fuming after trying to take pictures from a public road at the back of the historic West End theatre, just off Oxford Street at around 10.15am last Friday.

He had been heading to the nearby Photographers’ Gallery on Ramillies Street for a morning coffee when he spotted youngsters queuing outside a box office at the back of the theatre.

Fans were hoping for tickets to see US pop star Demi Lovato who was set to perform at a venue in Notting Hill later that day.

‘I had never heard of her but decided to walk down to the very end of the road where there were two police officers at the back door, I assume to keep order,’ the photographer told Amateur Photographer (AP) yesterday.

Smith said he used his Leica MP film camera, handheld, to take a couple of shots of some girls who, seemingly, had been queuing all night.

‘Interesting story, and not really a picture opportunity, but they wanted me to take their picture,’ he added.

‘I then went up a footpath known as Hills Place and took one [photo] of the police officers and their car, and thought nothing of it.

‘I then wandered back down towards the Photographers’ Gallery when one of the policemen confronted me. I suppose I was around 20 metres from the Palladium’s back door at the time.

‘He asked what I was doing taking photographs. I politely replied I was looking at what was going on and taking some pictures.’

‘Not against the law’

‘Once again I politely pointed out that it’s not against the law to take pictures in public unless any officer suspects me of being involved in terrorism.

‘His reply was “yes it is… if you are causing an obstruction…”‘

Smith denies he was causing an obstruction and says he saw two television crews in the area at the time.

‘The only traffic that comes and goes [from Ramillies Place to Hills Place] are deliveries, and there were none at the time,’ he claims.

‘Secondly, people were everywhere – some on the pavement, some on the road.’

Smith said the officer told him to move on and stop taking photos.

The photographer obliged and said he moved about 40 metres away.

Thinking he was clear of any further trouble, he considered taking more shots when the officer confronted him for a second time.

‘He said, “I told you to move on – why are you taking pictures of all these young girls?”‘

The photographer, who has three daughters, told AP that he found the officer’s tone ‘very offensive’.

‘I explained that I am a social documentary/street photographer and it is important to document all aspects of life…’

‘Once again I politely pointed out that I was not causing an obstruction and was within my rights to take pictures.’

Fearing he would be arrested, Smith left the area and said it appeared the officer was waiting for him to move on.

‘Remain vigilant’

Royal Photographic Society director general Michael Pritchard told AP: ‘The experience of RPS member Steve Smith suggests that photographers should continue to remain vigilant and be prepared to defend their right to take photographs in public places.

‘The police have listened to photographers’ organisations in recent years and there has been a considerable improvement in the attitude of the police to photographers, although it seems some individual officers are not always aware of this.’

At the time of writing, the Metropolitan Police had yet to find any record of the incident, saying it was not documented in a police notebook.

Speaking in general terms, a Met spokesman said: ‘Clearly, we would expect all our officers to be courteous at all times.’

The spokesman said officers were ‘policing a large crowd’ and that it would have been their duty to ensure public safety.

Born in Chelsea in 1953, Steve Smith’s passion for photography began in 1978.

He gave up photography from 1986 to 2004, blaming personal reasons and time spent running his own business. He likened this period to ‘being locked in a time capsule’.

  • Robert Zimmerman

    This is simply appalling, and this after we were told that an order had gone out from the top to instruct officers about where the law stands. And yet, again and again, cases like this pop up. We have officers on the streets who do not know the law. This country is well on the way to becoming a banana republic.

    I do hope that Mr Smith has got the number of the officer concerned – not covered up was it? – and will launch a strong complaint.

    This has to stop, once and for all.

  • Mark Pedder

    It is terrible to see photographers are still being harassed by the Police. They MUST be trained so they do not do this.

  • Jeffrey

    Legal Question? If he was arrested and lost a day of work, Is there a way for him to sue for harassment. Loss of work and other related events.

  • Paul’s Pictures

    The only time police ever questioned me was when i was photographing teenagers on the steps of a train station..all dressed up and wanting to be noticed. The cops were upset I think because they had seen me photograph one of them talking (flirting?) with a couple of the young girls..i reminded them too but “you would want your daughters to be safe wouldn’t you?” was the question i got in an offensive manner. Rude, ignorant of the laws they are hired to uphold. the public seem okay. Many parents have THANKED me for taking pics of their kids and even asked for copies (and I MEAN meany)

  • Tamara Cartwright-Loebl

    Always make a note of the officer’s number if this sort of thing happens as they usually don’t record minor cases of themselves bullying others!
    I’ve had many runs in with the police whilst doing perfectly legitimate things with dogs but many officers don’t actually know what the laws are and others rely on our ignorance just for a chance to throw their weight about. These guys were probably just bored – not laudable but they’re only human like the rest of us.

  • Philip Coppell

    Sack a few officers who are abusing the position and all will be well.

  • Mikey-N-Photography

    Ive had the same happen here in south wales, and this was at a very quiet public place, i was stopped, they done police checks on my car and insurance etc, kept me for around 30 minutes, then told me to go home! :O