Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Section 44 abuse of photographers continues despite warnings to police

Police stopWhile there’s no relation to my apparent withdrawal from photography – having added a photography category to the Blog as I seemed to be coming across worthy subjects, but with nowhere to post them, I promptly seemed to lose those opportunities at the same time, and haven’t captured anything worthwhile since – it seems that the ongoing abuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and search anyone without need for suspicion in a designated area, continues, despite a recent warning to them not to use the measure unnecessarily against photographers.

I’ve been in correspondence with other photographers who have fallen foul of various pieces of legislation, and public paranoia, generally south of the border, and generally at the hands of the Met police around London. I suspect these “chats” have led to my own demotivation in respect of carrying a camera and taking photographs in public. In particular, on of my contacts was employed (down south) as a police photographer, and while he had no problems with the police, he used to volunteer his services to the local school, as his work meant he was a “trusted person”. For some years, he attended at things such as sports days, and provided pictures of the event. He’s given this up. Thanks to the various high profile campaigns run by the media, despite his status, and the fact that he was at these events at the school’s invitation, he ended up being attacked by mothers at one event, simply because he was taking photographs of their children. As he was doing this officially, on behalf of the school, he could hardly have been seen as carrying out this activity covertly, and he was also carrying a fair amount of kit which would have been hard to hide anyway, yet the media frenzy of the time meant they still felt they were justified in attacking him.

Needless to say, as of that day, he withdrew his services, and his never offered to return.

He was in touch with me a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned that at least the problems with the Met appeared to have been dealt with, and it would be nice to see this become a thing of the past.

Since then, I saw that a warning was indeed issued last week to all police forces not to use section 44 measures unnecessarily against photographers. In a circular to fellow chief constables, Andy Trotter, of British Transport police, said: “Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.”

Looks as if it was a waste of time and effort, as one of the country’s leading architectural photographers was apprehended by City of London police under terrorism laws while photographing the 300-year old spire of Sir Christopher Wren’s Christ Church for a personal project.

In the past 18 months there have been 94 complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the misuse of section 44 powers. There is a growing outcry among working photographers who are finding their daily routines interrupted by police searches when working in high-profile areas that may be considered terrorist targets.

City of London police said its response to Smith had been proportionate. “When questioned by officers, the man declined to give an explanation and he was therefore informed that in light of the concerns of security staff and in the absence of an explanation, he would be searched under the Terrorism Act,” said a spokesman. “After the man’s bag was searched, he explained he was a freelance photographer taking photos of buildings. Once this explanation was received there was no further action.”

Police stop church photographer under terrorism powers | UK news | The Guardian

Although it seems you are not obliged to give these enthusiastic police officers any of your details, if you don’t, then they will threaten to cart you off to the nearest police station, and search you – presumably implying that this will be a strip and intimate search to motive cooperation.

I think I’ll just leave my cameras gathering dust – looks as if it’s safer if I just want a quiet life.


December 11, 2009 - Posted by | photography | , , ,


  1. Well, given what went on in the U.S. under the Bush-Cheney regime, I would be surprised if we do not have similar, or worse, laws/rules/regulations here. I will check with some sources. However, in the meantime, if anyone has incidents, please post them.

    I was checked-out by an Indiana State Policeman for photographing a coal-power electric plant from the highway… about ten miles away.


    Comment by Mel J. | December 22, 2009

  2. “I think I’ll just leave my cameras gathering dust – looks as if it’s safer if I just want a quiet life.”

    This is clearly the wrong way to handle this. Never give up your rights!


    Comment by ml | May 15, 2010

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