Police will not hesitate to use anti-terrorism powers to quiz photographers seen taking pictures in many public areas, even though they admit that most will have done nothing wrong.
The warning appears to be the clearest indication yet that photography in public will continue to present a legitimate target for police in 2009.
It follows controversy surrounding a man who was stopped while taking harmless photographs of boats in Cleveland.
The case sparked accusations that police had been heavy-handed.
Cleveland Police told us that they view ?interaction? with those who have been seen taking photographs, as an ?effective and proportionate tactic in preventing terrorism and similar criminality?.
They add that this policy also applies to people seen shooting video footage or making notes in ?potentially vulnerable locations? or ?suspicious circumstances?.
‘Bin Laden’s brother’
The statement followed the case of boat spotter Leslie Cheyne, 60, who was stopped while taking photos in Redcar.
Cheyne, from Sedgefield, County Durham told The Northern Echo newspaper: ?I phoned the police to complain and they said ?for all we know you could be Bin Laden?s brother??.
Cheyne added: ?If I was doing something wrong and I was posing a threat to national security I would hold my hands up but I am doing nothing wrong. I have been all over the world photographing ships and I have never been treated like this.?
Cleveland Police said they have not received a complaint from Cheyne and that ?enquiries are ongoing?.
When pressed on the reasons for the officer?s actions a Cleveland Police spokesperson warned: ?As a consequence of the current threat level and the intelligence picture, the police, relevant partners and the community are operating at a high level of awareness and vigilance to what is happening around them. Consequently, individuals who are often carrying out lawful pastimes or activities, in or around certain locations, may be spoken to by police.?
The comments were contained in a Cleveland Police statement sent to Amateur Photographer. It added: ?Past events have shown that terrorists may visit an area they propose to attack as part of their preparation. During this preparation phase they have been known to take photographs, video footage or make notes.
?Places that could be potential targets may include iconic sites, chemical plants, the national infrastructure, aviation, crowded places, the night-time economy and so on.?
Police admit that ?the vast majority of people who are approached will be doing nothing wrong?.
But they add that police expect officers to be ?professional and courteous? towards the public.
The Cleveland Police statement added: ?Police would ask that anyone who is approached by an officer under these circumstances co-operate and provide a brief explanation of what they are doing?.
They say that, if possible, photographers also show the officer ?any media they have taken?.
Police add that photographers are in a unique position to help fight terrorism and crime because they often have ?the ability to see things that are out of context with the situation?.