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Too-tall terror snapper stopped by cops again

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If the law doesn’t quite fit, then Kent Police are not above making it up as they go along. That is the conclusion of local photographer Alex Turner who, following his arrest last week for being too tall – and possibly looking like a terrorist – was stopped by police again on Sunday, and required to hand over ID.

Turner, perhaps foolishly, returned to the scene of his earlier crime (Chatham High St) late on Sunday to see whether the local community "would be... equally protected from suspected terrorism by night as it would be by day". The answer is yes. CCTV operators spotted him taking photos. A police car arrived and officers asked him to explain what he was doing and demanded sight of his ID.

On this occasion, fearful that he might be arrested again, he complied. In subsequent conversation with local police, he says they have unanimously expressed the view that failure to provide ID is likely to lead to his arrest.

This echoes a statement given to El Reg at the time of the last incident, by Assistant Chief Constable Allyn Thomas, who said: "A police officer responded to a report concerning a man who was taking photographs of buildings and people in Chatham town centre. When challenged by the police officer the man refused to give any personal details which it was thought was suspicious."

The key to this story is what the law says on the subject of ID, terror and arrests.

According to Anna Fairclough, a lawyer with lobby group Liberty: "There is no obligation in UK law for anyone to provide ID. There is only one power where an individual may be arrested for refusing to provide ID – and that is under s.50 of the Police Reform Act 2002, in respect of anti-social behaviour.

"Where the police have suspicion that someone is committing another offence, they are permitted to carry out an arrest if they believe this is necessary to establish name and address.

"s.44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 would have allowed the Police to stop and search Mr Turner, if a specific s.44 authorisation was in place in the Chatham area. This allows searches to take place without any requirement for suspicion – but it certainly would not entitle Police to arrest him or demand his name and address.

"I therefore have to assume, from the facts given, that he was arrested under s.58 or 58a of the Terrorism Act, which entitles police to arrest someone if they have suspicion that they are recording or eliciting information of a kind likely to be useful to terrorism.

"However, even under this law, a generalised suspicion is not good enough: the police have to have a specific reason for carrying out the arrest – which on the facts stated, does not appear to be the case here

"This feels like it could well be an unlawful arrest. It also appears to be yet another example of the police misunderstanding and misusing over-broad terrorism powers. As has already happened with s44 searches, the misuse of anti-terror laws makes us less safe, because it creates an atmosphere of hostility and non-cooperation by the general public towards the police."

The suggestion that his photos might aid terrorists was contradicted by Turner’s own later experience, when he was asked by the local police to blank out the faces of police officers involved and shown on his blog. This he did as an act of goodwill. However, he is adamant that the reason given had nothing whatsoever to do with concern that the information might be of use to terrorists.

We did ask Kent Police (several times) whether Chatham is included in a s.44 authoriation, which would almost automatically have legitimised the stop and search. Over several calls and e-mails, they will neither confirm nor deny this.

They have instead forwarded a statement from Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley, who said: “The police have a number of powers which they are able to use in relation to stop and search. With regard to this specific incident there was a need to establish the identity of the man in question. Once this had been done and officers were confident that no offences had been committed the man was allowed on his way and no further action was taken.

“Whilst the specific circumstances of this incident need to be established there are occasions when it is necessary for the police to address the behaviour of individuals. I am confident that the public would want us to do this to ensure their safety and well-being.”

This does not identify precisely what the offence was for which Mr Turner was arrested. Our legal expert at Liberty suggests it may have been under s43 or s41 of the Terrorism Act, but she adds that in neither case would the facts as stated provide reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, or sufficient grounds for an arrest.

A demonstration is now planned near Chatham High Street on 15 August in order to assert the right of photographers to continue to photograph in public, in the face of police bullying. ®

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