Police warned on terrorising photographers

They have already come up against Section 58A, but now photographers are being hit by another part of the Terrorism Act, this time designed to give police ‘stop and account’ powers.

‘Section 44’ are the latest words any photographer now dreads to hear, for they are the cue for a police officer to ask, without having to explain why, what a person is doing.

Accounts of ‘stop and account’ powers being misused have increased at such a rate that the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws has spoken out.

Lord Carlile of Berriew urged the police to examine how they use the act’s provision “very carefully”, reported The Independent, which obtained the accounts.

They reveal that one freelance photographer was ‘Section 44-ed’ by two police officers after they spotted him composing a shot of the House of Commons near the Thames South Bank.

Another photographer, freelancing for the BBC, was also reportedly stopped, and then searched by two police community support officers as he took photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The British Journal of Photography says the terrorism legislation, and certain sections within it, should only be used to stop and search those genuinely suspected of carrying out reconnaissance for terrorist activity.

The Journal’s clarification puts the police’s use of the powers in even more of a bizarre light: in July, a photographer was arrested for snapping a chip shop, and, more recently, another was stopped and searched for taking photos of Christmas lights in Brighton.

The government recently moved to clarify the law on the rights of public photographers, following certain restrictions, but the Journal reports that the number of them complaining about mistreatment by the police is increasing.

Editorial image Steve Punter


4th December 2009

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