Cops & Togs

Gaza demo, London. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

No doubt you’ve all heard of the Police’s “War on Photography”; not so much Axis of Evil, but f-numbers and shutter speeds. I have to say, that its becoming ridiculous. Photographers, professional and enthusiast, are being constantly bullied and their rights completely eroded by the Police’s misuse of Section 44. For those not in the know, this act is all about Terrorism and not photography.

Someone I know through Twitter even commented that all of this is making him stop coming to London to take pictures! Its an absolute disgrace, and all the Police officers who are guilty of misusing this power, be it the officer on the street or those sat behind desks and throwing down these orders should be ashamed. How disappointing that in this free country that we think so much of, the act of wanting to photograph something in public is being used as a reason to hassle law abiding people; be they news gatherers or people being creative. We are supposed to have freedoms in this country and I beg all officers around the country to take a step back and see the situation they have created. I wonder how the tourist trade might suffer if visitors to our shores realise they’re not allowed to take photographs outdoors?!

Now I fully understand that our country is under the threat of terrorism and I myself was on the front line in Edgware Road tube station after the bombing there. I applaud our intelligence services and the Police for all the successful operations they have carried out and for cleaning the streets of extremists who do not believe in our freedoms (the Police don’t seem to believe in these either). However, I would assume that a person involved in gathering intel would probably just log onto Google’s Street View (why doesn’t anyone shut this down? I’m guessing Google’s lawyers would be a match for anybody where as individual photographers are easy targets) from the comfort of their home. Or, I would assume that they would use small cameras and blend in with the thousands of tourists around town. Maybe they would even use spy type cameras in their ties, hand bags or hats?! Would they really used big DSRLs, sometimes on Tripods? Seriously? Is this what the intelligence tells us?

Being frisked by a security guard at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Stuart Emmerson

I’ve been a professional news photographer for over 20 years now, and it saddens me to see how much things have changed. Although relations with the Police haven’t always been brilliant, they have been miles better than this. We spend so much time stood at the same cordons that its ridiculous not to become friendly! There is no need for hostility, misinformation or game playing. There is room for respect for each other, honesty and humanity.

I remember in the early 1990s going to a light airplane crash (which unfortunately was fatal for the pilot) in an address in Harrow, Middlesex. The light plane had crash landed into the wooded garden of a mansion in the area. It was one of those rare occasions when I was suited and booted, and naturally the woodland was thick and the rain heavy and constant. After a few officers played their games and sent me on wild goose chases, I finally came across an officer who showed me where it was. He took one look at me and said that I couldn’t really get through the woodland with all my gear whilst wearing leather soled shoes. To my disbelief, he took my huge Billingham bag off my shoulder, My Canon F1n and 300mm f2.8 off the other shoulder and led the way! It was a long trek. He was kind enough to take me to the inner cordon and naturally asked me not to go inside – which is totally understandable. To this day I regret not making a note of his name and praising him to his superiors. Polite and helpful; a real gentleman.

In contrast, I was covering the Palestinian demos at the Israeli Embassy in London at the beginning of the year. As the night drew on, the Police started to kick out protesters, arresting those that they had special interest in. However, press or no press, we were thrown out of this area too. Not so much of a problem, but the TSG officer escorting me to a safe distance walked next to me, with a gentle hand on my arm. Once we got there (I need to point out that I was naturally doing as asked) the officer just drove both his arms into my chest and pushed me! Why he did this, I’m not sure. I think he was perhaps aggravated that I was doing as told. Again, I wish I’d taken a note of his number. Pointless!

* ‘Togs’ is a common shortening for ‘photographers’ *

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