Freed tourist photographer speaks of safety fears (update 21 May)
May 21, 2009
Page 1: Photographer’s lawyer reveals new details
Picture: Periklis Antoniou, who was in London on holiday, has spoken for the first time since his case was thrown out of court
Photo, courtesy Periklis Antoniou
Greek tourist Periklis Antoniou, who ended up in court after taking photographs on a London Tube train, has told how he feared for his safety after being cleared.
It has also emerged that, had the amateur photographer been convicted, the case could have had major legal implications for the future of reportage photography in the UK.
And, Amateur Photographer (AP) has learned, it was not until the morning of the trial that the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was no realistic prospect of a conviction – more than a month after the initial arrest.
This has raised questions as to whether a long legal saga could have been avoided, thereby saving thousands of pounds in public money, much of which will be used to reimburse the costs of Antoniou’s travel from Greece to attend the trial.
Police arrested Antoniou and locked him in a cell after a fellow Jubilee Line passenger objected to him taking pictures that featured the man’s 17-year-old daughter.
Antoniou, who is from Athens, had been on his way to Tate Modern to view a photographic exhibition when he was arrested outside Southwark Tube Station on 16 April.
The photographer was charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, for causing ‘public harassment, alarm or distress’ to the father – charges which related to the picture-taking.
On Monday he was cleared on grounds of lack of evidence, in a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Return to ‘Middle Ages’
But Antoniou, while relieved at the decision, says he cannot relax. ‘The question that remains is how am I going to get rid of the claim hanging over me. I had to go through this ordeal supposedly because I was taking pictures of an underage person,’ he told AP.
Antoniou said he feared that the man who had pressed the charges would attack him after Monday’s trial.
‘The prosecutor said that the gentleman was extremely angry with the not guilty claim and that he was present on the grounds of the court for a possible confrontation with me.
‘I said I was reluctant to leave under these circumstances and I stayed in the lobby to make sure the man had left and that he posed no further threat.’
He added: ‘I am really afraid that we are returning to the Middle Ages where, just on suspicion, women would be judged to have committed witchcraft and then burned to death.’
Antoniou’s lawyer John Waller said that, had the photographer been convicted of the charge, the case could have set a legal precedent for future cases where a person complains of ‘distress’ after objecting to their photo being taken.
Speaking to AP, Waller also revealed further details of the traumatic experience the photographer faced.
Driven to court in police van
He recalled how, following last month’s arrest, Antoniou was kept in a police cell overnight and driven to court in the back of a police van before being freed on bail.
But Waller said the case should never have gone to court in the first place and he was baffled as to why the Crown Prosecution Service decided to proceed with it to a trial.
‘The only evidence they [the prosecution] had was a statement from the father,’ he told us.
‘The prosecution should have taken the view that this was a disagreement and a complete misunderstanding about what was happening.’
He added: ‘My understanding was that the pictures were of the [train] carriage as a whole. The girl was in the photo. There were other people in the photo as well. I think he had a relatively wideangle lens and there was no hint of anything sexual, or anything like that.’
Page 2: ‘Waste of public money’
The girl was said to have been wearing a ‘low-cut top’ but there was no suggestion in court that the photographer had a sexual motive for his picture-taking, continued Waller.
Waller, from London-based solicitors O’Keeffe, explained that, if convicted, an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 carries a maximum fine of £1,000 and is ‘non-prisonable’.
‘The point is that, had he been convicted, he would have lost his good character and had a criminal record, which is disgraceful,’ Waller continued.
Several people, including a Greek politician, had rallied to the photographer’s aid in the four weeks that elapsed between the incident and final court hearing.
They submitted character references ahead of the adjudication at Westminster Magistrates Court.
Antoniou said the prosecution also asked to see some of his photographic work, to show his interest in photographic ‘art’.
‘It was a waste of the public purse and clearly not in the interests of justice to pursue,’ said Waller who pointed out that the State is obliged to pay for all Antoniou’s costs – including legal fees – which together will run into thousands of pounds.
On Monday a British Transport Police spokesman told us that officers followed standard procedure following the arrest.
In a statement the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today told AP: ‘Periklis Antoniou was charged by the British Transport Police with causing public harassment, alarm or distress on 16 April, and a file was then passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. A trial date was set for 18 May at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court.’
The CPS added: ‘Before the trial, the prosecutor reviewed the evidence again and decided there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and he accordingly offered no evidence.’