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Police still using anti-terrorism powers to obstruct photographers

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Bust Card

By Charlie Harris

Photographers covering the recent riots in London have reported that police have demanded they delete pictures.

Both professionals and members of the public have made such claims, with some asking on Twitter whether police have powers to make such demands.

The simple answer is “No”.

This has been a growing problem over the past two or three years, with journalists and tourists being bullied into deleting pix by officers either ignorant of the law or choosing to ignore it.

Sometimes the anti-terrorism law is cited as an excuse.

In two well-publicised cases, a father and son from Austria visiting London on a bus-spotting holiday were threatened with arrest unless they deleted pictures of a bus garage in NE London, and a BBC staff photographer suffered similar problems while taking stock pix of a sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral.

Although it may be difficult to stand up to police officers when there is a riot going on, Institute members are advised to, if possible, remind a police officer acting beyond his or herauthority of the “all forces guidance letter” issued by Chief Constable Andrew Trotter, chairman of ACPO’s Communication Advisory Group, in August 2010.

Mr Trotter’s letter was in response to many complaints to forces around the country, especially the Met in London, by both individuals and organisations such as the Institute and the campaign group “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist”.

He declared unequivocally: “There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.

“Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.”

And he warned officers: “Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or the professional, is unacceptable and undermines public confidence in the police service.

“We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.”

It may be impossible to resist an unlawful order from a police officer in the heat of the moment, but CIoJ members should always reports such incidents to the relevant force as soon as possible, quoting Mr Trotter’s letter, and also inform Institute head office.

Go to for a “bust card” that can be printed out and carried to help resist unlawful demands by police officers.


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