BBC Top Gear photographer: Met Police are a ‘nightmare’

December 2, 2009

A photographer who works for the BBC’s Top Gear has blamed the attitude of London’s police for restricting his shoots to locations away from the capital.


Freelance stills photographer Justin Leighton – who shoots behind-the-scenes for the Top Gear programme and magazine – said that taking photos in London often raises suspicion, even in areas where permission has already been given to shoot commercially.

Speaking in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the Top Gear brand, Leighton told Amateur Photographer (AP): ‘The Met Police and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) are a nightmare. They haven’t got a clue what they are doing.’

He cited one recent incident when a PCSO quizzed a Top Gear colleague who was photographing three supercars early one morning on Westminster Bridge, even though clearance had already been provided by the authorities.

Leighton, a former news photographer, said he is often forced to steer clear of Top Gear shoots in the capital, opting for locations such as Bristol and Exeter where, he said, police officers adopt a more reasonable approach towards photographers.

Leighton was speaking just days after BBC photographer Jeff Overs was stopped while taking photos on London’s South Bank amid fears he was planning a reconnaissance operation for a terrorist attack.

The BBC man was the latest to fall victim to the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation which has restricted photographers freedom to take pictures in public places unchallenged.

Last year, the escalating issue moved Amateur Photographer magazine to launch its nationwide campaign to defend photographers’ rights.

To add insult to injury, Leighton said that during one recent shoot at London’s Borough Market a thief escaped with £3,500 of his photographic gear.

But at the time, he told us, there was not a police officer in sight to whom he could report the theft.

Leighton works as a freelance photographer for BBC Worldwide.

Commenting on its policy regarding photography in public the Met told AP earlier this week: ‘We encourage officers and the public to be vigilant against terrorism but recognise the balance between effective policing to protect Londoners and the rights of the media and the general public to take photographs.

‘Guidance around this issue has been made clear to officers and PCSOs through briefings and internal communications.’


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