Police ‘overzealous’ in Christmas lights fiasco

November 26, 2007

Police admit they may have been ?overzealous? when they prevented a man taking pictures at a public event to celebrate the switching-on of some Christmas lights.

Photography enthusiast Phil Smith has lodged a formal complaint against Suffolk Police after an officer stopped him taking pictures from a spectator area in front of Ipswich Town Hall on Sunday 18 November.

The 49-year-old had been hoping to snap some images of the main event – which included a visit from Cinderella and Postman Pat. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to enjoy the festive cheer.

His plans fell apart when a policewoman spotted him in the crowd taking pictures prior to the lights being turned on.

Phil told us the officer approached him asking: ?Have you got a licence to use the camera??

It seems the policewoman objected when she saw him pointing his camera – a Fujifilm FinePix S9500 – at the crowd.

Phil said he had been using a ‘small monopod’ and claimed he was taking pictures of the act on stage.

?She said there was an official photographer at the event and I had to stop taking photographs,’ Phil told Amateur Photographer (AP).

?I was taken behind the barriers – and down an alleyway – to fill in an Encounter & Stop/Search Record form]. I found this very degrading as it looked as if I had been arrested.?

The police form ? a copy of which has been seen by AP – cites the reason for the stop as: ?taking photographs of the crowd at Xmas lights?; and ?unauthorised photography?. No actual search was carried out.

Phil tells us that photography is his passion as he is unable to work due to a spinal and hip disability caused by osteoarthritis.

Following our enquiries Suffolk police released a statement, which read: ?We have not had the opportunity to consult with the officers concerned and obtain their version of events.

However, it would appear that on the evidence presented that the officers may have been overzealous in the execution of their duty.?

Police confirmed that the Ipswich Christmas lights switch-on was ?a public event in a public place to which the public had access?. The police statement added: ?Hence, there were no restrictions on taking photographs.?

The force has pledged to conduct a ?full investigation? into the matter.

Picture (below): Phil Smith said he was using a Fujifilm FinePix S9500, a non-professional digital camera similar to the one shown here

Phil Smith said he was using a Fujifilm FinePix S9500

The event took place in the Cornhill area of the town and was backed by Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council.

Ironically perhaps, Phil planned to send his pictures to a friend for a ?community website? ? with the intention of promoting Ipswich as a ?glorious town?.

As publicity secretary for Ipswich & District Photographic Society, he tells us that the town?s Mayor, Inga Lockington, has asked the club to provide an image for her official Christmas card.

Phil says he has written to his MP, Sir Michael Lord, about the incident. He has also contacted Austin Mitchell MP, who is chairman of the Parliamentary All Party Photography Group.

For the full story keep an eye out for AP which is in shops each Tuesday.


The news comes soon after a veteran press photographer was stopped and quizzed by police community support officers last month in Ealing, London.

Picture (below): A copy of the police form recording the incident, supplied to us by the photographer, Phil Smith

Police stop and search form

Picture (below): One of Phil’s pictures currently on tour as part of a Royal Photographic Society exhibition

Picture by Phil Smith

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