Police chiefs have defended an officer who urged photographers to delete their pictures amid fears u2013 later proved unfounded u2013 that they had captured indecent photos of a child.
Meanwhile, a lawyer who witnessed the scene in Surrey last week, by chance, has come forward to say how he first feared the photographers – both in their seventies – were being ‘mugged’.
Surrey Police chiefs deny that an off-duty officer overreacted when he asked acclaimed photographer Don Morley, 76, to remove images of a toddler from his Fujifilm X10 digital camera.
And the dispute about how uniformed officers were alerted rumbles on.
Police have told Amateur Photographer (AP) that, separately, Guildford Police Station was alerted by a woman who had seen Morley and his 79-year-old friend Bernard Lockley taking photos that included her young grandson.
However, Lockley claims that the two off-duty officers who stopped them acted as ‘agent provocateurs’ – triggering the woman’s call to the station.
The photographers, who refused to delete their images, have told how they were left reeling in shock after police told them they were suspected of taking indecent photos of the boy.
Morley said police grilled them for half an hour in Guildford city centre and described the manner of the off-duty officers as ‘aggressive’.
Morley and Lockley were found to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
The pair, who were not arrested or physically restrained, were only freed from questioning when police realised there was nothing suspicious about the pictures, having viewed them on camera following a call to uniformed, on-duty, officers who arrived minutes later.
The camera club members say they had been taking general snapshots of street scenes last Wednesday having visited a nearby shop to try out a new camera.
AP understands that one of the off-duty officers asked the photographers to delete any shots they had taken of the toddler.
But, as the officers were off duty and not carrying notebooks, there is no police record of this part of the incident.
However, the force refutes the photographers’ claims that officers ‘demanded’ they erase their shots and their suggestion that the woman’s call to the police station was instigated by the off-duty policemen.
Meanwhile, Stephen Gerrard, a passing lawyer who happened to witness the incident, told AP: ‘I stumbled across the scene… My initial reaction was that these elderly men were being mugged or intimidated and so, standing on the corner of the alleyway, I decided to earwig the conversation.’
Gerrard said he heard the officers ask to see the photos of the child, and one demand they be deleted, though he was not under the impression that a member of the public had complained.
‘I think the allegation was that people were taking pictures which happened to include an image of a boy who had been in a pushchair,’ added Gerrard, who has worked as a solicitor for 30 years.
‘I said that you need to be aware that he [the officer] has no power of deletion and that everyone has a right to take pictures in public.’
Speaking to AP, Gerrard said: ‘Would a paedophile stand outside a jewellers shop taking pictures?
‘Two people less likely to be a threat to anyone I can’t imagine.
‘My initial impression was that there wasn’t an issue until the police made it one. Their whole demeanour was unfortunate.’
Gerrard – who said he gave his details to police – bumped into the photographers again later that afternoon. ‘They were clearly shocked,’ he added.
In a statement, Surrey Police told AP: ‘Surrey Police can confirm that a call was received from a member of the public at 12.50pm on Wednesday June 27 to report that two men were taking photographs of her grandson in Guildford High Street.
‘Two off-duty Surrey Police officers had also noticed the same two men taking photographs of the child and approached them to establish what was going on.
‘After viewing the photos, which did include images of a child, the off-duty officers were satisfied that they did not contain or depict anything which could be deemed inappropriate.
‘A uniformed officer then arrived at the scene in response to the call from the child’s grandmother and was satisfied that there was no need for any further enquiries.’
The statement added: ‘Surrey Police adheres to ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines which state that there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film and digital images, in a public place.
‘However, on this occasion concerns were raised by a member of the public that photographs were being taken of her grandson and Surrey Police supports the actions of its officers in responding to these concerns.’
Under ACPO rules, police officers require a court order before they can delete or confiscate images.