Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Orwellian Nightmare Unit...

The traffic snarled up and eventually came to a halt. I parked my car, grabbed my cameras and went to see what was happening. The road was blocked by police and fire engines.

More sirens rang out as a police car pulled across to block the road, while yet another fire engine arrived. I couldn't see smoke, so I assumed it must be an accident of some kind.

The air ambulance circled overhead obviously searching for a suitable landing spot.

It swung low over the rooftops, skimmed the rear gardens, and positioned itself to land at the junction of two roads.

It sunk below the outline of the suburban skyline and out of sight.
This is when the trouble started...
A policeman approached me. He asked if I was affiliated with the press, and what was I taking photographs of. I politely explained that I was just a local caught up in the traffic taking some shots of the air ambulance overhead. He then began ranting on about seizing my cameras as evidence! He was rude, aggressive and intimidating. I was shocked. I was told that I wasn't allowed to take photos. Although I was incandescent with rage, I didn't want to be arrested, or have my cameras taken, so I retreated into a side road.
With the cameras tucked under my coat I returned and attempted to blend in with the crowd. Just in time to witness another photographer suffer similar treatment. This time the police were trying to use anti-terror laws to stop him taking photos. He knew his rights, stood his ground, and informed them that they had no right to seize his camera, or prevent him from taking pictures. He was threatened with arrest for a public order offence and manhandled to a car by the policeman! Credit to the guy, he stated his case clearly, he had committed no offence and was well within his rights to take photographs on a public road. They reluctantly let him go.

Out of sight, the turbines of the helicopter whined into life. The thudding of the rotors grew louder as it emerged above the roof tiles. The police were distracted so I took the opportunity to snap a few shots...

After the helicopter left, I made conversation with the other photographer. I could tell he was very annoyed by the police. He was amazed at their ignorance of the law and of the public rights. We'd both encountered this abuse before, and I'm sure I will again.
It turned out that the incident was just a traffic accident. There was no reason to evoke anti-terror laws. I didn't hinder or obstruct anyone in any way. I didn't intrude on the casualties privacy. There was simply no reason to stop anyone from taking pictures. What was particularly hypocritical was the professional video camera crew (full size on the shoulder TV camera, plus sound man) that were shadowing the emergency services at close quarters filming the casualties from barely 6 foot away!
The police are misusing, and abusing these anti-terror laws as I suspected they would when I wrote a blog post about them when they first came into existence last year. (Read it HERE)
I will continue to take photos and strive to prevent the spread of this new branch of the police... 'The Orwellian Nightmare Unit'.


Jeaux said...

Good for you. The more that people surrender their rights, the more that surrender becomes established policy. Often with no turning back. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Lavender said...

Crap!! Whats the world coming too? Good for you for standing your ground, you were in the right, and perhaps a letter to some of your elected might be in order, its just outrageous!

Outhouse Capital of Canada said...

I have never had a problem but have heard that it happens a lot in the States. I also understand the security people at stores or industrial sites are worse than police.
I think you can find out what your rights are and print them out then when approached you can show the offended person what your rights are.

Outhouse Capital of Canada said...

With the Winter Olympics in Vancouver just now, I bet there are incidents there with photographers. glad I dont live near that zoo with all the travel restrictions around the city.

Kay said...

A week later all the traffic was stopped and asked if they had driven down the road at the time of the accident and did we see what happened. They aren't usually that thorough, made me wonder if they were looking for no witnesses as opposed to witnesses. That's backed up by them not wanting any photographic evidence. Do I sound Cynical?