Police ‘stop and quiz’ press snapper under Terrorism Act

November 2, 2007

A veteran press photographer has spoken of his disbelief that community support officers (PCSOs) stopped and quizzed him while carrying a camera – twice in the same week.

In both cases Ealing Gazette photographer Stan James says the PCSOs asked for his name, address and age, despite presenting his press card.

The photographer, who has worked at the newspaper for 25 years, told his editor that on the first occasion, last month, the PCSOs demanded to know what he was doing with his camera.

A few days later he was stopped while out on a job.

?I don?t think I believed it straight away. He just asked me why I was carrying a camera and I didn?t think it was any of his business,? said Stan in a report published by the paper on 19 October. ?If I had been behaving furtively or being evasive in any way I could understand it but I wasn?t even taking any photos.?

He added: ?I expect sometimes to be asked why I am taking pictures at police incidents and I?m more than happy to tell them why and what the pictures are for.?

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman confirmed to Amateur Photographer that the force?s PCSOs are ?entitled to take details of people whose activity, they feel, could be suspicious? under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The spokeswoman cited the case of photographing a high-profile building, for example.

At the time of writing we were trying to contact Stan for precise details of what he was planning to photograph, if anything.

The first incident took place in Singapore Road, West Ealing, according to the Ealing Gazette.

The Met told us it could not comment on specific incidents unless an official complaint had been made to police.

Commenting in general terms, the Met spokeswoman told us: ?You can?t stop somebody taking photographs in a public place. Obviously, we have an ongoing agreement with press photographers that will try to facilitate entry to [police] cordons etc when, and if, operationally possible (unless impinging on a crime scene or something like that).

?If they are just in the street taking photographs, as long as what they are taking a photograph of isn?t, for instance, the alarm system of the Israeli Embassy, it?s not a problem.?

She added: ?You are perfectly at liberty to take photographs in a public place as long as you are not obstructing a highway or a footway??

Ealing Gazette editor Shujaul Azam wrote: ?Here at the Gazette it goes without saying we fully support the police in their fight against terrorism. However, we cannot tolerate our photographers or any other member of staff being obstructed as they carry out their lawful daily duties ? particularly as they are more than happy to provide identification and an explanation.?

The Met police confirmed that PCSOs do not have the power to stop and search, or carry out an arrest.

The spokeswoman explained that PCSOs can only detain a person for up to 30 minutes, until a police officer arrives.

A Home Office spokeswoman told us that it is at the discretion of the chief police officers of individual police forces as to how much power is designated to PCSOs.

In March two Amateur Photographer staff members were stopped by PCSOs on Westminster Bridge in London while out shooting a photo technique feature for the magazine.

? The full story – including an interview with the photographer Stan James – will appear in an upcoming issue of AP, in shops every Tuesday

Picture: Police community support officers (PCSOs) have also been known to stop photographers near the Houses of Parliament

community support officers patrol the South Bank