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ACPO defuses impending photo row with police forces

Clarification clarified. Clear?

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Just two weeks since they clarified their position on the law regarding photography, the Association of Chief Police Officers last night issued a short note further clarifying its clarification.

This follows the recent exposure by The Register of a widening gulf between ACPO and local police forces over the question of when it is permissible to seize film or cameras as part of a criminal investigation.

The issue arose as we reported on an incident over the bank holiday weekend in Brighton. Sussex Police seized film from a photographer attending an anti-fascist protest as potential evidence of a violent crime.

This they did this using powers granted to police under Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (pdf).

Yesterday, however, we noted a possible conflict between Sussex Police's use of the law in this way and recent guidance (.doc) sent to Chief Constables by Andy Trotter, Head of ACPO’s Media Advisory Group, which stated: "Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order."

This created something of a stir down in Sussex, leading their head of media relations, Nick Cloke, to observe that this was "new ground" and as far as he was aware "untested legally".

It would appear that at this point alarm bells started ringing at ACPO HQ, and late yesterday afternoon we received a further communication from ACPO. A spokeswoman told us: "We have clarified our guidance note to forces, however, as this does not affect the legal right of officers to seize photographic equipment in certain circumstances, such as during the course of a criminal investigation.

"While it is the job of police officers to be vigilant, to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior and to act accordingly, we have been very clear in expressing our view that the taking of photographs is not normally a cause for concern. Whether s.19 PACE was used appropriately in the case in question would ultimately be a matter for Sussex."

More to the point, Trotter’s freshly updated advice has been re-issued and now reads: "Once an image has been recorded the police have no power to delete it without a court order; this does not however restrict an officer’s power to seize items where they believe they contain evidence of criminal activity."

For those readers too busy to play compare and contrast, the original guidance stated that the police have no power to confiscate recorded images, whereas the clarified guidance explains that they have. Clear? ®

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