The Home Office has invited Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine to help draft guidance that will aim to ensure police do not misuse anti-terrorism legislation to unfairly stop photographers.
Counter-terrorism minister Vernon Coaker made the request at a meeting in Parliament in which AP stressed the need for police to adopt a common-sense approach when dealing with photographers.
Representatives from The Royal Photographic Society and the British Institute of Professional Photography also attended yesterday’s talks, which were organised by photography rights campaigner Austin Mitchell MP.
Last month the need for clear police guidance on photography became more pressing when the Counter-Terrorism 2008 came into force.
Section 76 of the new Act makes a photograph of a police constable a potential crime if police deem it likely to be useful to a terrorist.
Fearing that the new legislation would lead to further ‘abuse’ of police powers, hundreds of photographers staged a demonstration outside New Scotland Yard in London on 16 February.
Though still early days, AP understands that the Home Office will distribute a ‘circular’ to police forces, outlining the reasons for the new Act and spelling out that the law must not be misused against amateurs and professionals engaged in legitimate photographic activity.
The new guidance will be in addition to revised guidance issued to police forces last year which was designed to help officers correctly enforce their stop-and-search powers.
In a separate move, Coaker signaled his intention to talk with the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to ensure that current police guidance on stop-and-search powers [Section 44] filters down to police officers on the ground.
Campaign makes headway
The talks in Parliament followed a year-long campaign to defend the right to take photos in public places, led by AP, Austin Mitchell and now backed by other magazines and the wider photographic industry.
The campaign was sparked by increased evidence that police routinely use anti-terror powers to unfairly stop amateurs and professionals taking pictures in public.
Yesterday’s meeting was attended by AP Editor Damien Demolder and news editor Chris Cheesman who said: ‘There is a real fear that Section 76 of the new Counter-Terrorism 2008 will increase the power that police already feel they have to stop photographers and that this will be misinterpreted and misused by police on the street.’
Damien told the minister: ‘Many of our readers feel really inhibited when taking photographs in public. The concern is not so much what the law actually says but rather how the legislation is interpreted by police officers. Some photographers are so concerned about being stopped that they have given up street photography entirely.’
A ‘police state’
Austin Mitchell expressed the need for police on the ground to understand that people have a right to take photographs in a public place.
And he warned of the ‘more imponderable threat’ hanging over the issue relating to the new Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which he fears police will misinterpret to the extent that photographers have ‘no right to take pictures of anything’.
Also lobbying the minister was Conservative MP David Wilshire and Labour MP Andrew Miller, both keen photographers.
Wilshire branded the government’s policy ‘absurd’, adding: ‘We are building a police state… I am appalled.’
Miller pointed out that police did not hesitate in asking the public for photos to help track down the 7/7 London bombers. He added: ‘There are a massive number of cases where images (such as CCTV) help bring about prosecutions. We should be encouraging more people to take photographs, and to share them with the security services if they are concerned.’
Coaker, who was handed relevant articles from AP, said: ‘There is no intention to try to stop legitimate photographic activity.’
The minister added that Section 44 stop-and-search powers, and the new Counter-Terrorism 2008, are important in tackling terrorism but acknowledged that there is always a debate about where to draw the line when enforcing the legislation.
Picture (from left to right): AP Editor Damien Demolder, Andrew Miller MP, Austin Mitchell MP, Vernon Coaker MP (Minister for Policing, Crime and Security), AP news editor Chris Cheesman, Murray Dobbie from the British Institute of Professional Photography and Royal Photographic Society treasurer Ian Bailey