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Police snapper silliness reaches new heights

City of London employ new ironic policing tactics

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After lagging well behind other forces for most of the year, City of London Police are now making a late surge to take the coveted El Reg prize for most absurd photographic intervention of 2009.

We were not especially impressed by their sending of seven officers in three cars and a riot van to deal with architectural photographer, Grant Smith, caught filming a church in the City of London. This was overkill, but alongside Kent’s arrest of a photographer for being too tall, as well as interference by various forces with assorted schoolboys, trainspotters and Austrian tourists, it was but small beer.

However, City’s decision to stop and quiz London Tonight reporter Marcus Powell, who was out with an ITN crew filming a story about Mr Smith’s little contretemps with the "boys in blue" shows extreme dedication to the cause of foot-in-mouth policing.

According to a spokesman for City of London Police, Powell was initially asked whether he had a permit to film, and then on showing his press card was allowed to continue.

The real question now is: will police efforts to alienate the public and piss off press photographers continue into 2010? Early indications are that common sense should soon reassert itself and we will finally be able to stop reporting on the increasingly silly interactions that appear to take place on an almost daily basis between police and photographers.

Last week, ACPO put out a strongly worded statement to all forces in England and Wales warning against over-use of anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers. Writing in The Independent, Chief Constable Andy Trotter, chairman of ACPO's media advisory group was blunt: "Everyone... has a right to take photographs and film in public places. Taking photographs... is not normally cause for suspicion and there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place."

Liberal Democrat frontbench MP, David Heath has been given the go-ahead to raise the issue of alleged abuse of Section 44 terror legislation against photographers with the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, MP, next week.

Pressure Group "I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist" has responded to events of the last couple of weeks by calling for a mass turnout of Photographers, professional and amateur "to defend our rights and stop the abuse of the terror laws" on 23 January 2010.

On the other hand, we have been here before. It was about this time last year that the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was reassuring the Commons with guidelines to police on the use of the anti-terror laws. ACPO have regularly issued sensible guidelines on the policing of photography, to little apparent effect: and back in April of this year, Tory MP John Randall triggered a debate in the Commons on the subject.

So whilst it would be nice to imagine that 2009 will be the last and peak year for police madness over photography, the omens are not good, and we would not be entirely surprised if a year from now we were writing a very similar piece, perhaps with another force in our sights. ®

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