Photographers express caution after talks with anti-terror minister (update)

March 23, 2010

Photographers and policePhotographers have urged caution after reassurances from a government minister that anti-terrorism laws will not target people taking pictures in a public place.

Earlier this month Amateur Photographer staff met Policing and Counter-terrorism Minister David Hanson who urged the magazine to forward to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) any cases where, over the next three months, photographers feel they have been unfairly treated by officers who use terrorism legislation to stop them when taking photos in public places.

Hanson pledged to keep a ‘watching brief’ on the situation and indicated that he is keen to draw a line under the issue following widespread media coverage and a mass protest by photographers in Trafalgar Square in January.

John Tracy, chief executive of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, said he found the meeting ?reassuring?, but cautioned that similar assurances have been given in the past.

Yet Tracy ? who was at the talks on 9 March – said he remains hopeful that fewer photographers will be harrassed in future.

Tracy said: ?The minister and senior police officers were anxious to reiterate that photography is a perfectly legitimate activity and that photographers should not ordinarily be stopped from taking pictures? the officers present were keen to assure us that beat officers will be briefed on the matter.?

At the meeting, which took place at the Home Office, Amateur Photographer (AP) news editor Chris Cheesman expressed photographers? ongoing concerns that they continue to fall victim to anti-terrorism legislation.

Statement from Amateur Photographer news editor:

?Sceptics may regard the minister?s meeting as a well-timed PR opportunity after mass media coverage of this controversial topic in recent months. We are just weeks away from a General Election after all. Wasn?t this then all just hot air? Well, Hanson was clearly confident that his department?s guidelines, released last summer, will stamp out any unruly behaviour by officers on the ground. But AP countered that – 12 months since meeting Hanson?s predecessor Vernon Coaker ? police attitudes, particularly among PCSOs, remain seemingly unchanged. Last year?s meeting with Coaker seemed somewhat rushed and short-lived. By contrast, Hanson devoted the best part of an hour and invited top brass from the nation?s police forces to the round-table discussion – a move that suggested the campaigning among amateurs, professionals and photographic bodies nationwide has had a huge impact. Hanson?s manner was business like, yet he was clearly prepared to listen. The minister instructed ACPO to play a key role in recording any future incidents reported to it, and for ACPO to then feed back any future concerns to the Home Office. Though premature to think that we had witnessed a seismic shift in the attitude of the authorities, the Met?s apparent willingness to even consider sharing the contents of their new police training video with AP suggests that the photographic community has sent shock waves through the corridors of power and triggered an overriding call for common-sense policing. We left feeling optimistic but in no doubt that anti-terror laws will continue to ensnare photographers in a climate where, according to ACPO, the authorities fear a Mumbai-style terror attack on the UK. The future of Section 44 stop and search powers may, however, be shaped by a recent call by the government’s terrorism watchdog, Lord Carlile. He said that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act should be abolished. This came shortly after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that officers? use of Section 44 is illegal. Whatever lies ahead, it is clear that access to the country?s policy makers would not have been possible, without the relentless persistence of Austin Mitchell MP, a campaigner who has boosted politicians’ awareness of this matter, based on evidence plucked from the pages of Amateur Photographer magazine.?


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