Freedom of Information Act Enquires of Police Restriction on Photography

After the Gen Sec of the NUJ, Jeremy dear wrote to the Home Sec …. and she replied saying policeman could restrict photography under some circumstances, I made freedom of information act enquiries of all uk police forces. I have collated them all since application in July and needless to say, I’m disappointed with the spread of responses.

Collected, they weigh in as 10.4Mb in a .PDF I guess anyone wanting this, or there local individual force reply, email me and will send you.

Further to this, the British Journal of Photography will be doing a splash about all this in the next issue [next Wednesday]. There is however, now an online ‘interim’ item at:

Exclusive: UK police forces unaware of agreed press guidelines

Have sent London headless house the collected .PDF replies. Also given to my local Nottingham branch, after raising all this again on Monday.

I’d done this lot, in the light of the Home Secretaries letter stating: “Smith confirmed that there are no legal restrictions on the work that photographers and journalists can do in public, but added that local chief constables were allowed to restrict or monitor photography in certain circumstances.”

With this in mind, I made a further set of Freedom of Information Act enquiries of all police forces. My object was firstly to test this and to enquire of those individual police forces, the restrictions the Home Sec describes. But secondly, I think the differences in the replies, the lack of consistency, is just as large as before the guidelines were more widely adopted. I think they illustrate the need for a more proactive response in their dissemination. I hope this research strengths our case for action. Jeremy will be meeting Vernon Coaker, the shiny new home office minister, after the latest reshuffle.

I think in a democratic society like ours (??) the more senior police managers can only agree with us, that it is not an offence to take photographs in a public place and to pursue stories of public interest. Hence, I guess, we will find little opposition in agreeing the guidance with them. You will know that the real problems begin with the lower ranks.

Since my own arrest for obstruction, my adventures continue with a situation at least once a week.

You may know that on the Nottinghamshire Police Guidelines cover, it says: “Guidelines for police and media at incidents”.

On several occasions, I have been told that, “ah mate, no, it’s not an incident, it’s a scene!!”. For this to have happened several times, clearly there have been some watchroom conversations about it all, and to think up devices. Then, at a couple of criminal justice events, I found myself in conversation with middle rank Inspectors and Chief Inspectors who knew nothing of the issue of these guidelines locally. They were to have been widely distributed within the force after agreement.

A more common reaction though, when police are trying to prevent pictures being taken or I’m being hassled about my presence, is simply to push them back at me, without reading them or acknowledgement. Thus to plead continued ignorance of their provisions. Basically they just don’t care. Down here on the street, nothing has changed, all is the same as ever.

There is now another level of policing, non-warranted officers, wardens etc …. I have to say that they are even less clued-up, than the average policemen and these can be even more officious, and lack understanding of their powers.

John Toner was interviewed for this piece, you might find interesting:

Since they do lack such understanding, I have asked locally if the wardens have been issued with the guidelines. I have been told that it was not relevant to do so and was not appropriate. Well, in the light of experience, I think it is.

You may also know that when we negotiated the Nottinghamshire Guidelines locally, I had made freedom of information act enquiries of all police forces, asking about their treatment of photographers at situations. It was the differences of reply that leads us to suppose that national guidance is required.

I think experience has shown though, that even if all is taken nationally, there is no consequence for them being ignored by police, and so they are. They do not form part of police operational orders. I know only to well of what happens to us if we are accused of breaking these guidance’s, we get arrested and convicted. I understand Roy Mincoff , Legal Officer with the NUJ was taking steps to see if these guidelines provisions could be included in the police and criminal evidence act. As far as I can see, this is the only way that the police will respect them, that if by ignoring them, that they break the law themselves.

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