Are you too tall?

16th July 2009

I feel compelled to add my voice to the growing number of people who are unhappy with the relationship between the Police Forces and photographers in the UK. A number of stories have cropped up over the past few months describing how police constables and community support officers have been harassing photographers, using laws intending combat terrorism (for example, this and this).

The most recent of which is this incident reported by The Register, where a photographer was arrested during being questioned by a Kent WPC. The individual had been stopped in order to explain why he was taking pictures of the area. Apparently, during these questions, he took the WPC’s picture. This, combined with his height, was found to be threatening and led to his arrest.

It almost feels like that Met has an ongoing war on photographers. Recent publicity campaigns involved ads designed to induce fear of photography. For example:

The reasoning behind the police’s apparent distrust of photographers is unclear. There has been no evidence that photography was involved in the September 11th or July 7th acts, and I am unaware of photography having been linked to any major terrorist plots. What is clear is that the adversarial stance that has been taken by the police is causing an increasing number of problems. It prompted the recent publication of these guidelines:

However, these guidelines do little to define what can be classified as suspicious behaviour, to the point where justifications of being of an intimidating size could be considered enough to be stopped and have your images searched.

It is important to remember that despite the attempts that the Police Forces might be making to clamp down on journalists and amateur photographers, it is very important that photographers' rights are defended. Not only does photography play a crucial role in journalism, but in cases such as Ian Tomlinson’s death, it illustrates how photographs from members of the public are key in matters of public justice, particularly in cases involving members of the Police Forces.

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