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Court slaps down coppers in photography case

Plods and cameras just do not mix

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The Met Police were making a spectacle of themselves again last week both in front of the camera and behind it. That, at least, appears to be the conclusion to be drawn from one unfortunate incident and one court ruling.

According to a news report by the NUJ London Photographers' Branch, Carmen Valino, a journalist on assignment with the Hackney Gazette, was on Saturday subjected to what sounds suspiciously like an assault at the hands of local police. Valino was trying to photograph the scene of a shooting in Hackney, East London from outside the police cordon. According to the LPB report, she identified herself as a journalist and showed her UK Press Card to police.

A police sergeant approached Valino and told her that she was disrupting a police investigation. He asked her to hand over her camera. Valino protested that she was in a public place and that he had no right to take her camera. It is then alleged that he grabbed her wrist and pulled out his handcuffs. At this point, Valino complied, showing him the images, which he deleted.

El Reg asked the Met to comment on this matter. We suggested that in a week when issues of how the police interact with the public were particularly sensitive - following the decision not to prosecute in the Ian Tomlinson case last week, and video footage of Wigan police assaulting Mark Aspinall in the news today - they might wish to be more proactive in this case. They have not yet responded.

Meanwhile, a case before the courts last month may severely impact on the future ability of police to keep an eye on individuals engaged in peaceful protest.

The Inner London Crown Court ruled that police surveillance of an open, public political meeting in June 2008 may not have been lawful. According to the judge the police had failed to provide any evidence that they were pursuing a "legitimate aim".

Therefore, their attempt to arrest individuals trying to obstruct their filming was equally in doubt. The meeting had been called by freedom of movement group No Borders at the Pullen community centre in south London. Present were members both of the police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) and supporters of FitWatch, which has undertaken to watch the watchers.

As officers from the Met's FIT unit, in full uniform, started to take film and still photographs of those attending, three members of Fitwatch unfurled a banner and deliberately stood in front of them.

These three were then arrested and charged with obstruction. In court, the prosecution argued that anyone regularly attending or organising protests should expect to be of the interest to the state.

However, the judge decided this was not the case. Without showing legitimate cause to film, the police had as much or as little right as anyone else to be taking pictures, and therefore no right to complain when they were obstructed. ®

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