back to article The war on photographers - you're all al Qaeda suspects now

When you hear the phrase "helping police with their inquiries", does an image of dedicated selfless citizenry instantly spring to mind? Or do you wonder whether the reality is not slightly more sinister? How about "voluntarily handing over film to the police". Stephen Carroll is a keen amateur photographer, with an interest in …

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Well well

who'd have thought it, police abusing their power. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

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Anonymous Coward

No suprise

I live in Humberside (only I dont, because there is no such thing anymore) and can tell you for a fact (my sister was a policewoman for a short time) that this behaviour is typical of Humberside police and is actually encouraged by their superiors (one of the reasons my sister quit). The force is so desperate to look like they're doing something that they make up easy crimes, instead of dealing with the hard ones.

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Are Photographers really a threat?

Of course, the "war-on-terror" angle is all cobblers too... see Bruce Schneier's Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jun/05/news.terrorism

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Black Helicopters

I dispair of this country...

These stupid interpretations of our laws are making me more and more belligerent. I remember the day when I challenged a copper to arrest me for "breach of the peace" safe in the knowledge we both knew he was talking out of his arse. Nowadays they genuinely seem to believe this crap they spout.

Still, if any copper ever threatens me for using a camera, I'll stand by it. It's hardly Tienanmen Square, I know. I'd just have to use my one phone call to ask the missus to delete all that extreme porn I own before the rozzers break down the door and send the cats to Guantanamo Bay for aiding and abetting a terrorist...

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Unhappy

Precedent?

Out of curiosity - does anyone have any real-life examples of terrorists carrying out photographic reconnaissance prior to an attack? I don't think the IRA were well-known for it, I'm not aware of the 9/11 hijackers taking pics of their targets, and if the 7 July bombers took any photos then nobody spotted them (and I'm not sure what purpose it would have served).

As for the peeeedo concern, I can understand it's at least distasteful to think that someone's taken pics of your kids in public for sexual gratification, but I'm not sure what harm it does anyone.

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Idea

How about severe criminal penalties for any police officer who prevents, or attempts to prevent, a member of the public from going about their (legal) business, without good cause -and I don't mean 'we were at a loose end so we though we'd bully someone'?

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It's happening in the U.S. as well

Bruce Schneier, the security guru, has blogged about this idiocy several times, most recently on June 5:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/06/the_war_on_phot.html

He includes a link to a web site which provides a handy two-page guide to the rights of photographers in British law, written by a legal expert:

http://www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr.php

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where are the media?

"Well Chief Constable, can you clarify the law please - is it legal or illegal to take photographs in a public place?"

All it needs is one question asked and answered on a prime-time programme to set this straight. We all know that the answer is that it's completely legal to photograph anything or anyone in public - though not on private property (which kinda puts the guy "apprehended" in Boots in a sticky, though not illegal, position). However, if enough people think it should be illegal, or is suspicious, or is the sort of think only a pervert would do, then social pressures kick in.

Ethnic minorities have known for a long time that the police have no problem harassing perfectly normal, legal behavior. They do it because they suspect "these people" are doing, or might do, something wrong. The overwhelming evidence that they aren't, doesn't ever seem to suggest to the police that maybe their victims are normal, law-abiding individuals who just happen to draw attention - just like street photographers do. Welcome to the world of the harassed.

You can't legislate against discrimination, or ignorance. Apparently you can't educate people either. All you can do is lift the veil of fear that is dragging our society down, to the point where anyone who isn't exactly the same as everyone else (whether in behaviour, hobbies or appearance) is labelled a criminal and treated accordingly.

We're doomed.

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Black Helicopters

Very good article.

Reminded of an incident a few months agoe. A road had been closed so that a large crane could lift a big something or other on to the roof of the Capital One building in Nottingham. Two guys were stood looking at this going off about 100 yards down the road and one had his phone out and was taking a picture when two sizeable yellow jacketed security guards came over and told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn't allowed to take photos.

I remember at the time thinking that was bollocks and yet I walked on anyway and didn't say anything.

I regret that it's complacency like mine that will/has lead us on the road of this particular Orwellian nightmare.

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Black Helicopters

Down with photographers!

Why, I remember the sixth of july a few years ago there was a "foreign" looking man (of whom I was immediately suspicious) who took a photograph of a bus. The next day, Boom! A terrorist attack happenned on a bus.

You can just imagine the next thing out of the Humberside Police Officer's mouth- [loud as possible] "Sir, have you stopped taking photos of children yet?"

Is there, I wonder, any law against recording the police stopping you? I mean it'd provide them with useful evidence in court if you were violent or suchlike, and it'd mean that you'd be able to defend yourself in court.

Also, how terrorist-unfriendly is it for the police to go about telling people they're looking at a "sensitive building"? And how do you define "sensitive" for that matter?

Camera because you're not allowed to take photos of them either. Probably.

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Linux

Is it a wonder???

Is it a wonder why I hate the police, I give them credit for doing a hard job but there a select few in the police that are just power hungry facists who want to take away rights just in case. What is even scarier is that there are people out there who actually do believe the same sort of thing.

I had a co-worker argue with me before over the fact that you should be able to lock people up for reading certian types of books.

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Unhappy

Cant Picture this.

http://current.com/items/88856223_you_can_t_picture_this

http://www.boingboing.net/2008/04/22/middlesbrough-cops-g.html

No news here this has been going on for ages.

Funnily enough after the 7\7 bombings the police appealed for footage of the bombings in order to help them find the bombers.

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Anonymous Coward

since when

does hull have sensitive buildings? Or are hotels full of hookers classed as sensitive now?...

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Pervophobia

This pervophobia is starting to drive me nuts. Its getting so you cannot take pictures of your own kids in public places lest the Pervfinder General takes you away to be burned at the stake.

What is it with the prats that run this sodding country? This trend towards criminalising the majority in order to catch/deter the minority of real offenders is getting absurd.

Don't they get it? If we are all tarred as criminals then the real criminals have less to fear as they can hide in the noise of ordinary people being persecuted with trumped-up charges.

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Anonymous Coward

How far can you go?

So, if an officer is insistent about "confiscating" your camera/film/media, how far are you allowed to resist before it becomes assaulting a police officer? Can you press charges against an officer for assault? Theft? Misrepresenting the legal position? Impersonating an officer of the law?

Plastic pigs (the Community Support Officers) have zero powers of arrest anyway, as eny ASBO-fule no.

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Stop

Once upon a time...

...in a country up in the north. And I thought it was a good idea to take some nightly shots (speaking about photography and nothing else) of a refinery. Just when I found the ideal position and mounted the camera on the tripod the first police car arrived. 'What are you doing here?' - 'Taking photographs.' - 'This is against the law.' - 'Well, no. Not as far as I know.' - 'You must not take photographs here!' - 'Why? There is nowhere a sign which would indicate this.' And so it went on a bit. In the meanwhile, a second coppers' car arrived. In the end, I was body checked, car searched and film confiscated. All under a sort of Terrorist Act.

EAfH

who hasn't been to Scotland ever since

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Flame

What about tourists.

They photograph buildings all the time. you know, the big ones, unique ones, old ones, pretty ones...

...and what is a sensitive building, one that has feelings?

But targeting people with a camera for any reason is just plain dumb.

People who are doing dodgy things like bomb things or look at kids know too much to do it openly. So who is actually being targeted....

The police are clueless to real world concerns and this is a <insert swear word> joke

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Alert

You can't even photograph buses in peace now...

http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/latestnews/BUS-spotter-hang-camera-paedophile-terrorist-accusations/article-194852-detail/article.html

you may have to cut and paste the link... but allegedly, a local has effectively given up his hobby of bus spotting because of the hassle he was getting over photographing them...

"The credit controller says his first brush with the long arm of the law was in Pontypridd, last September.

A bus driver took exception to being snapped and called the police, who demanded to see what he had on his camera.

A second incident in Monmouth saw an embarrassed PCSO approach Rob and run his name and address through police computers after a member of the public complained he had been acting strangely."

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Black Helicopters

@Idea

Stopping someone going about their lawful business is common assault, isn't it?

....and ....if it's a criminal offence, aren't the police officers involved permenantly relieved of their duties??( assuming the complaint sees the light of day )

Correct me if i'm wrong on this.

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"police state"

I'm not one for shouting "police state" at the top of my voice every time I hear such stories, but I can't help but tend towards that way when officers remain unaccountable for their incorrect actions; yet we the public are becoming evermore guilty until proven innocent.

I wonder what will happen if wireless cameras are mass produced such that the photos/stream can be broadcast live on the internet for literally anyone to record –where there’s no film/card to confiscate….

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Bruce Schneier

>does anyone have any real-life examples of terrorists carrying out photographic reconnaissance

Bruce Schneier wrote about this recently (see http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/06/the_war_on_phot.html)

He wrote "The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about -- the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 -- no photography."

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Boffin

Contact your MP

I wrote to my MP and received a nice reply on headed paper from the House of Commons, agreeing that it is wrong for the Police to try and stop photography in a public place.

I then got a follow up letter from him, including a letter from Tony McNulty who is minister for Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing. Stating there is no legal restriction on photography in public places. It is for the Chief Constable to ensure that Officers and PCSOs are acting appropriately and queries should be directed at them. But it also said decisions may be made locally to restrict photography, for example to protect children.

I now carry a copy of this letter with me, and have since been stopped once, got the gestapo questioning, stood my ground, asked if they understood the law. They wanted to see my pictures etc etc.

I Produced both letters, and asked if they would be happy explaining to their Chief Constable why they continued to harrass a member of the public, even after they were made aware of the law and the contents of the letters. Both letters were returned and they left without further comment.

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Flame

This cannot be allowed to continue..

There should be some kind of education for all police and community officers as to what is legal and what is not. And those continuing to act illegally should be fined and if persist should be dishonourably discharged, as they are breaking the law not following it.

The irrationality of people with proper cameras being stopped over those with just compacts is tragic. Even a semi-retarded half-brained monkey would pick something more subtle than the attention grabbing item that a dSLR tends to be if they didn't want to be suspect, which makes one suspect that these police are even stupider than the monkey in question!

You can find another article on this subject here - http://www.dslrdoctor.com/articles/page/fight_for_your_right_to_take_photos/

Now it is stupid to try 'fight' the police, but you should never surrender your camera or film/memory card, tell them if they want to do that they require a court order, and if they need to take you down to the station, at which point they'd likely let you go as having no basis, which means you could also potentially charge them for wrongful arrest.

I find the whole situation crazy, heck i found it bad enough when people started calling pedo just because someone shot a photo of a child, taking no consideration for if the shot was of a non-sexual nature, that paranoia made most photographers stop and go 'Yeah that would make a really great photo, but no, i don't want to risk it'.

And so now it's been furthered to even crazier levels once again to a new level of paranoia which makes even myself scared to photograph in London in popular places or just general areas with good scenery due to fear of being innocently victimized under false pretenses.

When I travel to Europe I don't have these concerns, rarely will the paranoia come even close to this communist style clamp down on photographers which once used to happen in Russia and be mocked by us, now look how the tables have turned on us! And what's been done to stop it? Not enough!

I'd recommend all photographers keep a concise document on them with FACTS about your rights, and examples of court cases, so if stopped and questioned, you can immediately call upon precedents and law to support your case, atleast as a measure to try to protect yourself against becoming another victim in this war on photographers. Anyone know where we can go to find Freedom???

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Black Helicopters

Guides

I am an amateur photographer and these new trends (whether isolated or not) are certainly worrying. Some street photographers have started carrying round leaflets with their rights on..

http://www.sirimo.co.uk/media/UKPhotographersRights.pdf

...is quite popular among people.

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It's not only photos that help terrorists

I had to find the postcode of a railway station recently to type into a map search website. A quick search of FGW's website gave no clue. After some more web searching, I gave up and phoned the customer service number. I was told that the postcode couldn't be given out "for security reasons".

No doubt a photo of the railway station is also prohibited "for security reasons". Watch out train spotters and lost people.

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Alert

Once upon a time...

Back in the sixties, a friend of mine went on a trip to Moscow as a tourist.

He took a photo of a bunch of people queuing up to buy pickled gherkins. (A bit of a rare luxury item, then, I imagine.)

He was arrested and taken "downtown" for several hours. The potential charge: "taking pictures of the People without their consent". He was, happily, finally released, minus his film.

So we're getting there...

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Coat

Even the failed McDonalds employees are at it

I was chalanged by a security jobsworth in Canary Wharf for taking a photo of the tower as I thought my kids would be interested in the window cleaners at work all the way up there.

Apparently I was commiting a terrorist offence (according to Mr Minimum Wage) and I was going to be arrested and also banned from the area !

He was less than happy when I pointed at the 20 (Japanese) tourists who where taking photos of the tower, and when I refused to hand over my camera he got really upset (I suggested that he did not touch me or my property). When his supervisor turned up and the threat of being arrested turned up along with being banned from the area if I did not comply with their orders was once again used.

The issue was finally resolved when I pointed out that I worked in the building in question and my employers would make a a dim view of my being banned from the estate.

However (there is a point) the security staff in Canary Wharf commonly hassle people in the pubs and resturants for taking photos of each other. It's not uncommon to see cameras and phones being taken off customers.

It wouldn't be so bad but the security staff in Canary Wharf refuse to do anything if there is any issues (theyre usually the first to run away from, shop lifters, drunken financial sector workers or a days work).

Mines the one with the camara in the pocket

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Thanks

Thanks for an insightful and well considered article. This is a subject that needs to be publicized as much as possible.

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Send photographers to Guantanamo!

It's all so stupid.

I've even heard of police using anti-terrorism laws to stop simple trespass. What's wrong with the existing trespass laws?

"Had a visit from the transport police yesterday (i work for networkrail) during our conversation i was informed that due to the high incidence of cable theft throughout the country ANYBODY found to be trespassing with bags of equipment or tools WILL be arrested under anti-terrorism laws and treated as such."

http://www.flickr.com/groups/manchesteruk/discuss/72157605707872043/#comment72157605720544473

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Jobs Horns

Muppets with Badges!

Gutted... As a long time reader of El Reg and having the pleasure of being Pakistani (hey - I really DID choose my colour and nationality when born...) and with a keen interest in Amateur Photography... I'm already starting to shirk away from the idea of going around snapping...

I live in Yorkshire (born and bred) and recently have started taking an interest in photographing Churches (I know wtf...) but lots of the Churches here are Masonic and if you look closely ehough - you'll see the signs all over them...

Being a typical Northerner (northern born, northern bred - strong in the arm - weak in the head) - I'd rather offer em a fight then take my film/camera... *sigh* what fucking freedoms. The pig cunts can have their cameras rigged all over town ( I know a cam operative who used to tell me about all the topless women they've viewed) and yet - I feel intimidated now to not even take an innocent photo of a Church.

Thatchers puppets can all fk off. (sorry for my profanity but hey - I'm a Yorskhireman!)

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@ Rik Hemsley

Do you know, I think that that is exactly what we need. Perhaps the new offence should not just limited to police officers, but to all of the population; there's no reason not to hold other members of the public to the same standard. The punishment could be higher on police officers if they use their status to add extra intimidation.

Absolutely excellent idea.

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Unhappy

London Bridge

so how does it work when I'm driving my mates car across london bridge, tower bridge, right around No. 10 Downing Street with my mate (a location manager), hanging out the window taking lots of shots of....urm London.

shot on sight?

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TK
Unhappy

So much for that holiday destination

I'm just guessing the police don't often chat with the folks at travel and tourism? I'm not saying our own George W Stalin has done much to make the US inviting as a travel destination, but I used to view England as a place I'd love to return to for a holiday. It sounds like it's getting almost as bad there as it is here.

I'm just waiting for the day DARPA comes up with the image erasing brain ray to make sure we don't record any mental images as well.

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Police Baiting with Cameras is the New Black

"Where journalists and members of the public come into contact with the police, they are urged always to keep their cool."

Why is this necessary? Is it because we all know that your average plod has an IQ that a bullfrog would be proud of, can't deal with a reasonable and reasoned argument and when confronted by logic generally just put their "case" forward in a very blunt manner (i.e. "you'll do exactly what the fuck I tell you to do or you're nicked" - and this is a direct quote from a police officer) or simply beat you up (admittedly, I haven't had personal experience of this since the late eighties).

The problem has been around for a very long time. I do not have any legal qualifications, have never worked in crime prevention but I do have an IQ over 130 and I tend to know more about the law than the people who enforce it.

In future I'll be sure to ask for a court order and if plod then insists on stealing my equipment I'll have no choice but to perform a citizen's arrest - that should be fun!

How we laughed for 42 days until the bastards let us out!

Mine's the one with the high-powered SLR* in the pocket, I'm off to bait some policemen. >:-)

That's "Single Lens Reflex" and not "Self-Loading Rifle" (just in case the thought police are watching).

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Unhappy

It can only end..

... in tears. Unfortunately, I cannot see this issue going away or it becoming any easier for photographers. In reality, the level of offical paranoia has gone beyond anything that the general public actually need to feel safe. We are being controlled through fear and the more fear there is the more the state will take away our liberties and make us even more fearful. We have a lot to be fearful of and it's not al Qaeda, it's the erosion of our civil liberties. Who needs al Qaeda to destroy our society when the state can do that fine by themselves.

We vote these paranoics into power so the only way to ensure the preservation of our democratic rights and freedoms is to vote them out. Lobby your MP and find out where they stand on civil liberties and vote accordingly.

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Unhappy

Some common sense please

Given the wealth of information available on the Internet, a wanna-be terrorist probably wouldn't even need to engage in covert or otherwise photography? Google Earth, Flickr etc have plenty of photographic information about public spaces. But, anyone serious enough would use something like the discreet BBC's Rogue Traders style 'Tie-cam'. They certainly wouldn't be walking around a busy city centre with an SLR camera, calmly looking for the best lighting conditions.

In the old days, photo developers, like Boots or Supasnaps, used to remove photographs they deemed inappropriate, or would report photographers to the police or social services for anything really nasty (like for example, a photo of your kids in the bath). Of course the advent of digital cameras has completely removed this element of control from the 'system'. I could image a state where a trip to London would result in most of the pictures being replaced with a note saying 'Due to security concerns, blah, blah, blah...'.

I was in London a few months ago. While most people are oblivious to these heavy handed tactics by police, having read a few articles like this, I am not. I was taking a picture of Big Ben. I wasn't approached or anything, but I was very conscious that I could be, and sadly I was a little paranoid about using my camera. I nearly didn't take the photos, but then thought, sod it, why shouldn't I. It shouldn't be like that.

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Picture this

"The Met recently ran a campaign that pointed a finger of suspicion at photographers. This cannot help but whip up public fear of anyone with a camera."

How absurd! These days *everyone* is a photographer! From 8 year olds to 80 year olds, everyone is snapping away with anything from camera phones through to the high-end DSLRs. Christ, you get digital cameras with petrol and in Chirstmas crackers these days. What will they do when wearable video becomes the norm, or when the first 17 megapixel contact lenses become available? "I'm sorry sir, you'll have to hand over your spectacles - and you, that wi-fi exoskeleton with the eight integrated lenses, come, on, get it off!"

Silly King Cnuts, the lot of 'em.

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Coat

Twatsters

I was in a Mr. Twister last week with one of my grandsons.

I took a few photo's of him and shortly after was asked by a management representative to stop using the camera as a customer had complained.

I really can't see the reason for the complaint although the kids there were all quite young, most had an adult with them and all were fully clothed.

Getting beyond a joke. Worse that the complainant felt it necessary to involve the management (who were clearly complying because they had to, rather than they felt that it was a warranted complaint) rather than ask me personally.

The one with "Paedophile" written accross the shoulders.

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"private property"

"though not on private property (which kinda puts the guy "apprehended" in Boots in a sticky, though not illegal, position)."

Well, Boots is a public place insofar as until you're told to leave, you are there legally.

Remember, you can always (if Boots et al want to be a PITA) demand that they remove pictures of you, since they must have permission to take pictures of your likeness.

It's just as legally enforceable as their demand you don't take pictures.

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Anonymous Coward

Police Harassment

Have a look at darren pollards videos on police harassment. He is a bit paranoid but it is an eye opener

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=VfQrDK9YHas

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Coat

This happened to me - twice!

1) I was on King's Road in London on a lovely sunny day at a cafe with my mother. After our coffee, I stood up and took some photos of the scene - buildings with people in front of them, etc etc. Same thing I have done for over 30 years. All as a hobby and chances are, a good portion would be erased (I was using a digital SLR.) To my shock and horror I was approached by not one, but TWO, I don't know what to call them, but council people or something in orange jackets - one of whome was not even British. He asked me NOT to take any more photos and what I was doing. I was so shocked (this is a public space, NOT GCHQ) and don't recall what I said, but he claimed there were lots of celebs in the area and it was illegal to photograph them. Huh? (I was not using a zoom and was not dressed like the paparatzi.) I refused to erase the pictures and walked away. (As I hope others will do in such circumstances.)

2) I was in Chiswick and taking photos of small businesses as part of my own web design work. A policeman came up to me and asked what I was doing and after lengthy explanation, made me sign a form and gave me a receipt to say I had been checked out and all was ok. (Across the street, a person of colour with a camera was ALSO being quizzed by the police.) The explanation given on this occasion was that I was being asked for politicallty correct reasons. IE, I am white and so out of fairness to the person across the street, they had to find someone else taking photos too so he didn't feel embarassed. And in a way, I understand. I was close to the tube station (NOT photographing it), but they may have had a point, but the issue is, all of this (and more crazy laws) are making living in this country stressful, confusing and in a way, pointless. If this 'war on terror' is to go on for 50 years (as claimed by Bush and Blair a while back), then it may be best we all leave and come back when it's over? Else what exactly are we defending?

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@idea

Surely they can be charged with wasting police (i.e. their own) time

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Pirate

Case for slander

Isn't the statement 'taking photographs of young people' (implying peadophilia) slanderous?

How aweful in this Daily Mail - Daily Rage day.

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Humberside Police

Anyone who finds themselves in the vicinity of the HQ of Humberside Police should conspicuously take pictures of the building and a few rozzers coming and going. Just make sure you're not with anyone else doing the same (or you'll be treated as an unauthorised protest).

If enough people do so, often enough, they'll get the message.

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Makes me want....

... to go to Hull town centre with my camera and start taking photos hoping to get hassled so I can give them a talking to!

This kind of stuff really annoys me - the Police do a really difficult and thankless task and this kind of crap done by a few badly reflects on thew decent majority.

PS Not a cop, but my Dad was and says the same thing!

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Pirate

SCCs and terrorism training

First off -- there are loads of cameras with networking capabilities so have the camera regularly dump pics to your SCC*.

Secondly -- it now appears my daughter is not off to Uni to study photography but off to a terrorists training camp.

*you should know what that means by now.

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Stop

Vicious officialdom...

This is just another example of the "Do as we say" attitude which is pervading this country in the guise of "protecting our freedoms" as those with even a little bit of power follow the example of our Political Leaders in seeming to think that it is their duty to control every aspect of our lives.

Of course what they are actually doing is *threatening* our freedoms, but try explaining that to them...

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Not just the British police

Last year while driving across the border from Switzerland into Italy I had a video camera mounted on the dashboard which was recording. Normally I switch it off going through customs checkpoints since they can get a bit funny about it, but this particular checkpoint was a good couple of miles inside Italy. He first tried asking for a bribe, in English, but when no cigarettes appeared his English skills deteriorated and he insisted on making me rewind and erase the section in which he appeared.

Whether he wanted to enforce a law prohibiting filming of police officers or official buildings, or just to make sure he couldn't be seen/heard asking for cigarettes is another question...

Steve.

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Bronze badge

Austin Mitchell?

OK, he has a decent reputation locally, and he's well-known as a serious amateur photographer, just the sort of person who it likely to get hassled because he's not an NUJ member and is using an expensive camera.

But I really wish he hadn't voted for 42-day detention without charge, using the ridiculous excuse that he did.

Thanks for everything else, Austin, but can I trust you after that?

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Good for the police

personally, I think someone trying to take a picture of the dead woman at London Bridge deserves an old-fashioned police-kicking, rather than just being intimidated

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