Photographers: Is ‘stop and account’ the new stop and search?
December 4, 2009
Page One: Police chiefs to quiz Met
Police do not have the legal power to force photographers to supply their personal details if they are stopped while taking pictures.
During two recent high-profile stops, one involving a BBC photographer and the other a journalist for the Independent newspaper, a police officer recorded details such as name, address and date of birth on a ‘stop and account’ form, rather than an anti-terrorism ‘stop and search’ form.
In several such cases over the past few weeks, prior to completion of the form – which is held on file at the local police station – the photographer had been told they were being stopped under anti-terrorism legislation.
Police have the power to stop a photographer under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
But, earlier this year, the police were told to scale back their use of anti-terrorism stop and search powers after complaints that Section 44 was being abused.
A police officer is required by law to complete a stop and account form if they ask a member of the public to provide personal details.
However, the police officer is not legally required to tell the person that they do not have to supply this information, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
ACPO, which co-ordinates police policy in England and Wales, has pledged to question the Met Police over its procedures regarding ‘stop and account’ following concerns raised by Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine that officers may be choosing to use this rather than ‘stop and search’.
In an interview with AP, ACPO spokesman Craig Mackey, who is the Chief Constable of Cumbria Police, said: It [stop and account] is not a Terrorism Act power. It is very clear. A member of the public can say ‘thank you officer, I’ve explained why I am here. I don’t want to give any details.”‘
Mackey admitted that police on the ground don’t always get it right.
He added: ‘There were a lot of stop and searches being done under Section 44? It’s quite clear you can’t use that.’
He said that if, for example, a CCTV operator in central London spots someone taking photos then an officer may approach the photographer. ‘The point at which the officer starts asking what are you doing here, the officer is required by law to complete the [stop and account] form. That’s about accountability for the officer. It’s not about exercise of power..’
Mackey said the public would expect the police to be vigilant near ‘iconic sites’ in London, for example.
‘Please don’t assume that what happens in London happens right across the rest of the UK. But the threat to London is different in terms of terrorism.’
He said it?s about getting ‘the balance of that conversation right and the manner of [the officer’s] approach’.
The news comes as Amateur Photographer fights to defend photographers’ rights as part of a nationwide campaign launched several years ago. This has led to widespread media coverage including an appearance by AP’s news editor on BBC Breakfast last year.
AP has been raising awareness of this issue for some time and recently highlighted the plight of photographers on London’s South Bank.
Picture credit: Chris Cheesman/Amateur Photographer
Page Two: Media thanks AP for photo stories
The ACPO spokesman urged photographers. ‘If individuals have a problem in their particular area, raise it with the local inspector or borough commander. We’ll pick them up and we’ll look at them.’
The issue has received widespread media coverage in the past few days.
Independent reporter Jerome Taylor, who was stopped while taking photos on Westminster Bridge, discussed the issue today on BBC Breakfast TV and on BBC Radio 4.
Taylor, who co-wrote an article in yesterday’s Independent, drew much of his research on the experiences of AP readers.
He told us last night: ‘If it wasn’t for specialist media such as Amateur Photographer – alerting enthusiasts and professionals to the misuse of the anti-terrorism laws by police – the mainstream media might not have picked up on this story at all.’
He added: ‘Press photographers are used to being routinely stopped by police, particularly in central London. They tend to grumble about it and move on. But it’s clear that anti-terrorism laws are ensnaring all sorts of photographers whether they are professionals, amateurs, enthusiasts, trainspotters or tourists.
‘No-one denies that the police have a difficult job to do in protecting our society from the threat of terrorism. But it too often feels like the police officers have come to regard all photographers, particularly those with lots of equipment, as potentially subversive people who need to be regularly monitored.’