UK man hassled by cop for not having a "camera license"

A quick-thinking police officer spotted a 49-year-old man taking photos of Christmas lights and busted him on the spot for not having a camera license. When the photographer failed to produce a license (which would have been a neat trick, since there's no such thing as a camera license in England or any other free nation) the officer kept the world safe from terror by making the man delete all the photos in the camera.

"People were still taking photos with mobile phones and pocket cameras, so maybe it was because mine looked like a professional camera with a flash on top," he says.

"I wasn't very pleased because I was taken through the crowd and through the barriers at the front and people were probably thinking 'I wonder what he was doing.'

"To be pulled out of a crowd is very daunting and I wasn't aware of my rights.

"It's a sad state of affairs today if an amateur photographer can't stand in the street taking photographs."

Here are Flickr photos of the Christmas lights of Ipswich, every one taken by terrorists no doubt.



  1. I take it policemen in England cannot be sued or held to account in any way for their actions.

  2. I would totally sue them for no other reason than to make an example out of these idiots so that some sort of freakin’ policy may actually be established to which these dim-wits can adhere.

    Clearly, common sense is too much to expect in many of these situations. I mean, really. Is England training their cops with crayons and coloring books?

  3. we need everyone out there camera-jamming; feign photography every day in every way, your freedom depends on it!

    Of course,there will be blood. Take heart though, as the first shot to death by police, you will live on forever as a martyr!

  4. The “cop” was a special constable, which means they were a volunteer. They still have all the powers of a regular cop, but perhaps we can give them a little more leeway when they screw up?

    I’m still pleased that the photographer complained and got this incident highlighted. I’m fairly astounded at how common this seems to be. The more press this issue gets, the more educated everyone will be about their rights.

    Oh, the BBC article mentions a petition that British residents and expat British citizens can sign on the Downing Street website. It has gone from 900 odd signatures earlier today to 2000 now. :)

  5. Stefan, just what I was thinking.

    ‘This is a dog license with the word “dog” crossed out and the word “camera” written in in crayon….’

  6. Ah. Siding with the photographer, eh?

    Need I remind you people that the burden of proof lies with the photographer to prove that he’s the one out of thousands of people taking photos who doesn’t seem odd?


    Hold on. I have to consult with a few security experts to get the proper wording on that. I’ll be back.

  7. Gaia DAMNIT! I know there are the Photographers bill of rights in the States…, but is there anyone out there who can find out what the actual legalities are in Europe and on other continents? As a photographer, I have never been hassled while living in Germany, except when on the subway(u-bahn), but to their credit they do have information posted that you can’t shoot images of any kind while on the system…which is admittedly slightly stoopid…I am so sick of hearing what is going on in England. I simply don’t understand why photographers(cellphone and pocketcam and SLR owners) are not flash mobbing the sites and areas that are hassling the photogs to teach these damn ass****’s a lesson! Folks, when situations like what has been happening lately in England are occurring, we must all rise up and show up en force with hundreds of people shooting images of the ‘forbidden’ zones. Its just laughable, with how many cctv’s are monitoring the streets in England that they would ever have the nerve to suggest you can’t be in public and take a picture!

    Flash Mob…Literally. Blind those bastards with our blitz’s!

  8. @Takuan: @Dan: @Battlehobo4000: @Qozmiq:
    If you look at the original BBC story this was a link to, it says this: “an official complaint about the Christmas lights incident helped sort matters out. Not only did he receive a written apology from Suffolk Police, but also a visit from an inspector, who explained that the officer, a special constable, had acted wrongly.” A ‘special constable’ is an unpaid volunteer part-time policeman. What do you expect?

  9. What do you expect?

    I, for one, do not welcome our new unpaid, volunteer, part-time, policeman overlords. Is being an asshole better if you do it as a volunteer? No. Do I care if a goon is unpaid and part-time when he hauls me out of a crowd and illegally forces me to delete my pictures? No. What I expect is that a government does not send eager, untrained stormtroopers out into the street to harass the citizenry by enforcing imaginary laws.

  10. Is it an especially good idea to have unpaid volunteer part-time police?

    It seems like having your pictures deleted is about the smallest possible abuse of such a system, IF (and I have no idea how things like this work in the UK) they really are shielded from the consequences of their actions. To say nothing of the fact that it’s hard to imagine that they’re trained anywhere nearly as rigorously as proper police.

    Every little bit of power needs to come with its own little bit of accountability.

  11. Yes, the police are pretty much shielded from their actions. Is this not the same everywhere?

  12. More people need to step up and say, “Put me in jail, but I’m not deleting my pictures because you tell me to. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

  13. how does the policeman’s union feel about unpaid, incompetent and dangerous volunteers foisted on them by penny pinching civic authorities? I’ll bet this is all about money – as usual.

  14. I would like to purchase a license for my pet camera, Eric. And also one for Eric the fruit bat.

    [pedantic sarcasm]
    If you have to have a license to own a television in the UK, why not one for a camera? They’re both receiving electromagnetic radiation, just at much different wavelengths.
    [end pedantic sarcasm]

  15. It takes years, but the Metropolitan Police are quite generous with their compensation. Try to get them to arrest you if this happens; it works out to about a grand per day…minus, and this is completely serious, room and board.

  16. WRT volunteer policemen. I did some googling and discovered that this is not a new thing. People used to be forced into this role on occasion by being sworn in by a magistrate. They’ve been wholly volunteers since 1835 though. Yes, this role has existed for the best part of two hundred years.

    Educating the public, the regular police force, and the special volunteer police force alike on our rights would seem the most useful strategy at this point. [Although flash mobs sound like a fun way to do this.]

  17. I REALLY HOPE that the photographer in question has recovery software on his computer.

    Just because you “delete” the images, it doesn’t mean that they have been erased from the memory card.

  18. Can you all not see that this is a contrarian attempt to sell more cameras.

    ‘The outrage they were picking on a photog just because he was using a cannon D40 we must all go out an buy one and flashmob anywhere that a undercover cannon employee has demanded to see someones camera liscence.’


    or Mr. Orwell was off by a few years.

  19. UK people can write to their MP to ask him/her to sign Austin Mitchells early day motion
    regarding the production of a code for the information of police officers.

    My MP wouldn’t sign it but wrote to the minister of state at the home office. So at least I have a letter to carry around, from the Rt Hon Tony McNulty on home office stationery, that states “There is no legal restriction on photography in public places, and there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place”

    Brits. should write to their MP about the matter. The EDM now has 131 signatures, and looking at other EDMs, this seems to be a lot. Make it more.

    Find MPs at

    Alan Clifford

  20. If his camera’s memory card was formatted as
    fat32 he most likely would have been able to
    undelete the pictures the cop made him delete.

  21. Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) are referred to as ‘Hobby Bobbies*’ by some.

    *for none UK readers ‘Bobby’ is acceptable slang for a Policeman. Bobbies is plural of Bobby – Yeah it’s how the English language works.

  22. Hmm, now *this* is theft of unique and valuable intellectual property. (Namely, copyright. It’s created when you press the shutter, the officer’s action deprived the owner of it.)

    You wouldn’t make someone burn their handbag…

  23. a topical humourous interlude

    A class of five-year-old schoolchildren return to the classroom after playing at recess.

    The teacher says to the first child, “Hello Becky, what have you been doing this playtime?”

    Becky replies, “I have been playing in the sandbox.”

    “Very good,” says the teacher. “If you can spell ‘sand’ on the blackboard, I will give you a biscuit.”

    Becky duly goes and writes ‘s a n d’ on the blackboard.

    “Very good,” says the teacher, and gives Becky a biscuit.

    The teacher then says, “Freddie, what have you been doing in your playtime?”

    Freddie replies, “Playing with Becky in the sandbox.”

    “Very good,” says the teacher. “If you can spell ‘box’ on the blackboard, I will also give you a biscuit.”

    Freddie duly goes and writes ‘b o x’ on the blackboard.

    “Very good,” says the teacher, and gives Freddie a biscuit.

    Teacher then says, “Hello, Mohammed, have you been playing in the sand box with Becky and Freddie?”

    “No,” replies Mohammed. “I wanted to, but they would not let me. Every time I went near them they started throwing sand at me, calling me nasty names and asking to see under my jacket in case I had explosives.”

    “Oh dear,” says the teacher. “That sounds like blatant racial discrimination to me. I tell you what — if you can spell ‘blatant racial discrimination’, I will give you a biscuit.”

  24. @34, Taukan

    Clearly the problem is that the child’s name is Mohammed.

    If the child had a pretty name such a Eric or Charles, he’d be playing in the sand box with Becky and Freddie all day long.


  25. To Quote from Gemma’s comment (#9):

    The “cop” was a special constable, which means they were a volunteer. They still have all the powers of a regular cop, but perhaps we can give them a little more leeway when they screw up?

    Seems to me, the Hobby Bobbies should be given a lot *less leeway* when they “screw up”. At the other end of the legal equation, how many times have we been told in our lives “ignorance of the law excuses no one”? This should count double for the meddling, do-gooder, busybodies with too much time on their hands who volunteer to be extra-special constables.

    On the other hand, count your blessings: if this happened in the US, chances are you’d be tasered or shot or both.

  26. I can see it now..

    PC Clouseau: “Deu you have a licaunce for that camera?”

    Innocent punter: “A what?”

    Meanwhile in the background an actual crime is taking place…

  27. there was a particularly disgraceful incident where two of these Hobby Bobbies watched a drowning without intervening, following best practices in health and safety.

    “… PCSOs have been well trained to overcome the natural human instinct to save a drowning child. Trained not to attempt something for which they had not been trained.” []

  28. @31: Police Community Support Office (PCSO) != Special Constable (SC).

    SCs have the same powers of arrest and training as normal police officers but are generally volunteers and so don’t get paid. PCSOs have no more powers than any other member of the public and exist to provide support to regular police. They do get paid a full salary though.

    In this case, whether the policeman was a PCSO or SC he should have known better.

  29. Oh London, I’ll be spending my money in Dublin, instead. Let the Brits have their CCTVs and stupid anti-picture-taking-pseudo laws. Support that culture and you support the enemy of democracy. Right? And the Brits think they’re soooo above us in the US.

  30. OK, I’m as against this ridiculous scare mongering anti-camera nonsense as the next bongboinger.

    But, reading between the lines, this is about someone taking photos of a band on stage with a pro-looking camera:

    “The 49-year-old started by firing off a few shots of the warm-up act on stage. But before the main attraction showed up, Mr Smith was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.”

    If you go to a concert (and this seems to be something of the sort) and stand by the stage and take pics with a big SLR-type camera, there’s a really good chance you will be stopped – usually by venue security. Nothing to do with anti-terrorist absurdities. It’s more about venue photo licences (which exist), band PR rights and the like.

    My 2p.

  31. He was in a public place. As evidenced by the mea culpa from the police department. If a band performs in public, they’ve given up venue rights. Would it also be illegal to take a photo of a band member as he walks down the street?

    And a tiny digital camera of today can have about as much photograph-taking potential as a big SLR. The size of the camera is irrelevant.

  32. It wasn’t a band performing in front of a paying audience, it was a former TV star turning on a display of Christmas lights in front of whoever felt like showing up.

    If you look at the Flickr set, it’s clear that these are lights hung on buildings out in public, and stretching across public streets from one side to another. The “stage” was a raised platform with an awning over it (photo here), along one side of a public square.

    Venue licenses and PR rights and all that kind of thing don’t enter into it.

  33. I say, we should start tagging such pics with something like “the terrorists are winning”.

    Or “bomb target” or something.

  34. padster123:

    I think what you really meant to say is, “I can’t think of any way this can be justified, and it scares me – so I’ll just make up a completely different set of facts on my own and pretend they were the case.”

  35. #42:
    It depends. If the concert is held in a public place like a town square or whatever, with free admission, one can usually freely take photographs of the performers on stage.

    In most small venues, there won’t be any problems either. I’ve been going to concerts at least once a week over the past few years, never without my camera, and I’ve always been welcome to take photographs. Of course, as a matter of courtesy, you’ll ask the performers for an e-mail addy, and you’ll be sending them a selection of your pics in web-ready format so they can put them on their myspace page or whatever. This will usually be very much appreciated.

    Larger venues and big-name artists will often have a photo policy. In some cases just asking for permission will do the trick. Last summer I got away with taking my equipment into a Patti Smith concert, just by pointing out that the venue policy said “no flash photography”, and pointing out that I would not be using flash since I had a nice fast film…

    Deleted files on flash cards can usually be recovered, provided they have not been overwritten in the meantime. I’m not using digital cameras as yet, but I saved several other people’s @$$es with this neat little program:

    As for ignorant cops and equally ignorant members of the public, I have noticed that carrying a real camera (as opposed to a cellphone or a point-and-shoot) will set off the ZOMFG UR NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS UR VIOLATING MY PRIVACY reflex in a fairly reliable manner. One may encounter agressive behaviour for merely carrying the camera in one’s right hand and not even pointing it at anything…

  36. By the way, I was harassed in 1996 (Yes, 1996)in London for not having a photography license . True story, I was taking pictures of John Singer Sargent’s tomb. I walked past a work crew with ladders and tools to get into the chapel. What I didn’t notice was when they finished their work, they replaced the red velvet ropes they’d moved while working. A few minutes later, a security guard was in my face, eyes bulging and the veins in his head and neck throbbing. He said, through gritted teeth, “Sir, may I see your photography license?” I replied “Wha?” and he said “Do you see these red ropes? They’re here to keep tourists from entering and taking photos. Yet, here you are. Obviously you have some sort of special photography license. May I see it?” I tried to explain, but left before things got worse…

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