Police policy body stays out of child photo row

July 10, 2012

Amateur Photographer (AP) understands that an off-duty Surrey Police officer asked award-winning photographer Don Morley to delete a lawful image of a child from his camera, taken in Guildford city centre on 27 June.

The force denies the photographer’s claim that the officer ‘demanded’ it be erased.

It was later discovered that the photographer was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Asked for a response to the incident, a spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said: ‘It is for Surrey to comment on this individual case.’

ACPO referred AP to a statement issued by Surrey Police last week, in which the force says it adheres to ACPO photography guidelines.

Meanwhile, ACPO says its rules have not changed and has released them to AP for clarification purposes:

  • There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore, members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
  • We need to cooperate with the media and amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.
  • We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
  • Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and it undermines public confidence in the police service.
  • Once an image has been recorded the police have no power to delete it without a court order; this does not however restrict an officer’s power to seize items where they believe they contain evidence of criminal activity.’

After the Guildford drama, fellow photographer Bernard Lockley accused the off-duty officers of behaving like ‘agent provocateurs’ triggering a call to uniformed police by first approaching the child’s family.

Surrey Police maintain that a call was made, independently, by a woman expressing concern about two men photographing her grandson.

In 2010, before the government published a review of anti-terrorism laws, Home Secretary Theresa May urged ACPO to play a greater role in the behaviour of officers who stop photographers taking pictures in public.

May was responding to a letter by Francis Maude MP which outlined concerns raised by photography rights campaigner Mark Singleton, a retired photographer.

Singleton claimed that the guidelines had failed to change the attitude of police forces.

In a letter to Maude, the Home Secretary said: 

‘The police must be able to decide how incidents are dealt with and resolved and we will look to ACPO to show strong leadership in promoting and supporting the greater use of professional judgement by police officers and staff.’

ACPO represents 44 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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