A Kent Police chief has spoken out in response to a complaint made by a photographer who was arrested and ‘dearrested’ after taking pictures in Chatham, earlier this month.
The statement comes days after the independent police watchdog said it would not pursue a complaint made by the photographer, Alex Turner, but allow police to carry out their own internal investigation into the incident on 8 July.
Turner was arrested on Chatham High Street under anti-terrorism laws after taking a picture of a police officer.
The photographer made an official complaint to Kent Police saying that the incident left him ‘traumatised’. The official police investigation into the complaint is ongoing.
‘No offences’ committed
‘The police have a number of powers that they are able to use in relation to stop and search which have to be assessed according to the type of incident being dealt with,’ said Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley, Area Commander for Medway in a letter sent to Amateur Photographer (AP) this morning.
‘With regard to this specific incident there was a need to establish the identity of the man in question, whose behaviour had caused concern and who, when asked, had refused to provide his details. Once officers had established that no offences had been committed Mr Turner was allowed on his way.’
Corbishley continues: ‘However, following a complaint made by Mr Turner, the circumstances of the incident were voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who agreed that Kent Police’s Professional Standards department should investigate.
‘We are in contact with Mr Turner and will keep him updated as to the findings of the investigation.
‘However, I wish to make absolutely clear that my officers were well placed in a situation where I truly believe the vast majority of the public would expect them to find out what the circumstances were, not least when Mr Turner’s behaviour had generated suspicion with local council employees and he had refused to reveal his identity.
‘Police in Medway are here to ensure everyone’s safety and on occasions we have to ask members of the public to provide personal details and explain their actions, particularly when we have reports of them acting suspiciously and they refuse to say who they are.
‘Whilst policing powers always have to be applied professionally and proportionately, police officers and Police Community Support Officers have a responsibility to use their powers to identify who they are talking to and clarify if their behaviour is unlawful or not.’
Corbishley adds that the stopping and identification of people acting suspiciously has helped drive down recorded crime figures in the area.
‘Sir Robert Peel was doing this when the police service started in 1829 and it remains a key tactic we still use to ensure Medway becomes an even safer place to live, work and socialise.’
Photographer hits back
However, Turner hit back, today insisting that he believes he was not obliged to provide personal details to the council workers. ‘I was taking pictures at about 11.30am in the high street, in full view of anyone who cared to notice. Pictures I took of people I asked their permission… Pictures of buildings were taken openly with no effort made on my part to conceal what I was doing.’
Turner, who has yet to receive a written response from Kent Police, added: ‘It is somewhat disingenuous of the police to suggest my behaviour was suspicious. Chatham High Street is covered by CCTV cameras.’
AP’s ongoing campaign
The incident is the latest of many to signal what photographers believe are ever tighter restrictions on photography in public places over recent years.
Growing anger among photographers led AP to launch a campaign to fight for the protection of photographers’ rights and raise the public profile of the issue.
The campaign, which is ongoing, has led to talks in Parliament and to the cause being taken up by other parts of the photographic media.
In March, the magazine lobbied the Home Office over the issue, leading the government to pledge to work with AP in the drafting of soon-to-be-published guidelines designed to help police officers correctly interpret anti-terrorism legislation.