Armed police swoop on Thames tourist: Photography news blog

September 23, 2009

Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine’s news editor witnesses the latest incident involving an innocent tourist and anti-terrorism police officers

Last night I was jogging alongside the river in Vauxhall, south London when I spotted three armed police surrounding a lone tourist. The man – who appeared to be from eastern Europe and dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans – was equipped with nothing more than a camcorder.

I looked around to see what the man could have photographed to trigger such an alert in this mainly residential area of SW8. A large apartment complex, a bar and a bistro dominate this section of the river, while the MI6 building is at least 150 yards away and barely visible on the other side of Vauxhall Bridge.

I had finished my run and noted the time. It was around 7.40pm. The police, carrying handguns in their holsters, were in full interrogation mode. One officer already had hold of the man’s camera and was browsing through the still images he had taken.

And, if the tourist didn’t already feel humiliated enough, it all took place within sight of a riverside pub packed with late-summer drinkers. The second policeman was filling out a form while the other officer quizzed the man, relentlessly it seemed.

The tourist’s English was not good and he was struggling to answer as the policeman’s repeated his questions: ‘What did you take pictures of?; Where are you staying?; Where are going next? Which airport did you arrive at?

The tourist appeared shocked by the sudden intrusion into his evening stroll along the river. Fifteen minutes elapsed and the probing continued as I waited nearby, baffled by the length of time if took the officer to complete his police stop form.

It was after 8pm when the officers left the tourist to enjoy the rest of his holiday. I approached the man armed with nothing more than a business card and a compact camera with a flat battery. The tourist appeared equally drained of energy. I tried to reassure him that his experience was nothing unusual in the UK where photographers are often stopped in public areas.

But the man seemed fearful and was clearly reluctant to talk further. Who can blame him? I wished him luck and hoped he hadn’t been put off returning to the UK, like the two Austrian tourists who were stopped earlier this year after photographing a London bus.

Chris Cheesman, news editor, AP

Picture: The riverside location in Vauxhall, south London where three armed officers last night quizzed a tourist over his pictures


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