Security kooks' accusations force bus-spotter to give up lifelong hobby

A Gloucester bus-spotter ("omnibologist") is being forced to abandon his 40-year-old hobby of snapping pictures of busses and trams because security kooks keep calling him a terrorist and even a pedophile. A 30,000-photo veteran shooter, Rob McCaffrey's been at this since he was ten, and he says that the harassment in the UK is off the charts -- worse than in former Soviet states.
The credit controller, from Gloucester, says he now suffers "appalling" abuse from the authorities and public who doubt his motives.

The bus-spotter, officially known as an omnibologist, said: "Since the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown.

"The past two years have absolutely been the worst. I have had the most appalling abuse from the public, drivers and police over-exercising their authority.

Mr McCaffery, who is married, added: "We just want to enjoy our hobby without harassment.

"I can deal with the fact someone might think I'm a terrorist, but when they start saying you're a paedophile it really hurts."

Link (Thanks, BritSwedeGuy!)


  1. I work in Gloucester and live near Monmouth (which is just over the border, in Wales) and the temptation to go buy myself an obnoxiously large and obvious SLR and start strolling around taking photos purely in order to get a chance to explain how mad this nonsense is to as many people as possible is considerable.

    The good news is that the witch-hunt against innocent photographers is starting to get the *right* sort of press attention now; Austin Mitchell raised an Early Day Motion in the Commons:

    …and the BBC have also run some good coverage (see eg. : ).

    Even The Register has joined in:

    There’s also been considerable coverage of the chronic abuse of the appalling RIP Act being used by local councils to institute surveillance on people in order to prevent dogs crapping in parks, littering and the like — quite gratifying for those of us who tried our best to wake people up to what was happening back in ’99 when the wretched thing was first mooted; if it only takes a decade for the general public to wake up to the epidemic of useless and infuriating security theatre and the panopticon state, that’s pretty good going I suppose.

  2. Why did they add “who is married”?? So we think that even a kook like this can get a wife?

  3. #3: Probably to reinforce the fact that he’s not a pedo.

    I think everyone in the UK should carry a camera at all times and take pictures of of everything. What are they going to do, harass/jail you all? Uhhh, I just had a vision of “Escape from the UK” starring Mr. Bean.

  4. What is it about public transit photography that makes this man a paedophile? Eccentric, yes. Strange, maybe. But paedophilic? Come on!


    Your vision may not be too far off. If they start criminalizing eccentricity in the UK, they’ll have to lock up half the country.

  6. I don’t understand the logic of thinking photography is harmful. Like most everything in the world, the technology is dual use. It could be used for good or bad purposes. The government uses photography for good, taking pictures of traffic violators and using surveillance cameras to fight crime. The government could also use these images for bad, as in corruption. But they say the good outweighs the bad.

    Isn’t it much more likely that a photograph taken by a private citizen be used for good and not bad. Haven’t more private pictures and videos been used to solve crimes than to perpetrate them. Since the vast majority of people taking pictures are not terrorists then the vast majority of pictures are being taken for good and a subset of these pictures will be used to fight crime not commit it.

    If the majority of terrorists arrested were caught with photos and videos of their targets and no private photos were ever used for good then the govt might have a case. But lacking any evidence that terrorists use photography and overwhelming evidence that photography is almost always a good it seems that banning it will cause the public great harm.

    I have heard Ron Rivest make the argument that it is for the greater good to allow dual use technology like encryption if it is used for protecting us from criminal acts much more than it is used to perpetrate them. The example of a protective technology that everyone can understand is gloves. Gloves protect us from the cold, microorganisms and sharp objects. They also protect a criminals fingerprints from being discovered. Yet we do not outlaw them.

    Photography should be viewed as the same. A technology that serves the greater good and is even protective in cases where it helps solves crimes. This good far out weighs the extremely rare (and still unproven) case where a terrorist uses photography to plan a crime.


  7. I imagine the “who is married” was intended to illuminate the “We” in the following quote.

  8. Here’s a modest proposal:

    Simply make the ownership and use of private and/or unlicensed photographic equipment illegal. Then these problems will go away.

    See how easy?

  9. When in London (suburbs) 2 years ago, I was on the train platform taking pictures of all the cool trains we are too stupid to have in the USA as they went by. No one said a word. Maybe because they new I was a bleeding Yank? Also took a picture of the “Ladies Waiting Room” sign. I have lots of pictures of the double decker buses and no one got suspicious even with the 1955 Nabokov novel I had with me.

  10. Since Security Theatre doesn’t have anything to do with making us secure, it doesn’t need to fight actual threats. It just needs to harrass people about possible threats. Since any activity under the sun could be used in a negative way (suicide bombers usually walk to their targets don’t they?) you can use the security excuse to ban just about everything.

  11. I wonder if wearing one of those construction worker
    vests (altered to display “PHOTOGRAPHER” in big
    letters in the front and back) would help?

    Then, “helpful” civilians might refrain from
    reporting him to authorities and authorities,
    when they do see him, might figure “what kind of
    self-respecting terrorist would wear this day-glo
    orange vest?)

    Still, it’s a long way to have to go in order to
    snap a picture.

  12. I’m an amateur artist.
    May I sketch realistic portrayals of the buses, or is this too a potential security threat?

    What if I’m an author and I describe the buses in explicit detail in a novel or short story?

    Also, my visual memory is pretty good, so should I refrain from staring at said buses?

  13. Hi, UK. Just so you know, you are not going to get any of my tourist dollars.

    That’s OK, dollars are pretty much worthless now.

  14. What is “security”?

    It is fast becoming a meaningless word, like “freedom” has become in the US.

  15. What is “security”? It is fast becoming a meaningless word, like “freedom” has become in the US.

    Securidom! or, Frecurity!

    Greetings, citizen! THE COMPUTER has made you a TROUBLESHOOTER, a protector of the underground city of ALPHA COMPLEX. You and your fellow Troubleshooters will have lots of fun rooting out Communist mutant traitors. The Computer says so.

    Members of treasonous secret societies like the Frankenstein Destroyers, the Illuminati, Psion, PURGE and the Sierra Club may attack, maim or blackmail you. Treasonous mutants with powers like Electroshock, Pyrokinesis, Charm, Puppeteer and Bureaucratic Intuition may shock you, incinerate you, subvert you, control you or bury you in paperwork. But it will be fun. The Computer says so, and The Computer is your friend.

    Most fun of all is uncovering your fellow Troubleshooters’ secret societies and mutations, accusing them of treason and persuading The Computer to terminate them — before they do the same to you.

  16. #24: I love you so much right now.

    “Stay alert! Trust no one! Keep your laser handy!”

  17. ZUZU@24: Y’know, I never realized when I was playing PARANOIA that it was training me for life in the modern age. Silly me.

    Next: the clones! Wheee!

  18. It’s now officially time for me to make myself an “Amateur CCTV” t-shirt and hat, to go with the “Federation of Amateur CCTV Operators” website I’m working on…

    (Shirt / hat artwork will, naturally, be available under a Creative Commons license once they’re done.)

  19. I know how he could teach those bastards a lesson. Blow up a bus or two. I am sure they will apologize for suggesting he was a terrorist.

  20. #24… yes, but I only have one life… I have no clones to to be respawned when the previous one gets vapourised…

    yes, I still have my original rulebook… and the gamesmasters screen… and Hill Sector Blues… and several cast figurines…

  21. Aside from the fact that it is ridiculous to link photography with terrorism, as covered well in previous articles here, the real tragedy seems to me to be the fact that no actual law is being enforced by these “security officers.” Who is spreading this folly? Mass hysteria or secret agenda? When those entrusted with enforcing the law become judge, jury, and executioner, then we are truly living in a totalitarian state where our inalienable rights are nothing but words on very old parchment.

  22. I think you are all missing the most important thing here. If you have any “private” photos of yourself and/or your partner, it may not be safe to carry it around in your camera. Not when the police have the right to demand you show them them photos in the camera.

  23. This absurd tabloid fear scenario is just a dream come true for all the frustrated mall cops, nylon-uniform-wearing security fatsos and petty officials out there. Plus readers of the Daily Mail, on the hunt for all the predatory paedos out there.

    (fear of fellow citizens + fear of arty types + fear of anything resembling intelligence or curiosity about the world) x (tabloid fear mongering + government fear mongering) = stone the photograper!

  24. I have talked to railroad special agents (cops) about their quest to stop all photography of trains. I brought in a copy of Trains magazine one day to their office and showed them a feature article about a particular US city. It showed all the railroads passing, RR frequencies used, loads and empty numbers, hazardous materials carried, photos from every angle and then I reminded them there is anything you would ever think to ask available on the internet already. I have never had a problem with them since and I snap away.

    As far as aircraft images I take I have found that in MY city of Kenner, LA there are too many cops on the beat with nothing better to do than to hassle people taking pictures well away from airport fences and from public and private property.

  25. we need a photojournalism project: “Idiot Cops”
    Photographers worldwide should submit photos of security cretins to a giant hall of shame.

  26. is there any law against wearing a fluorescent orange vest labeled “Terrorist Photo Spy”?

  27. @ 37 —

    Good idea but photographing “Idiot Cops” would almost be like photographing “Wet Water”. 8)

  28. they have to be images of self-important little nazis caught in the act. We could have a contest. Name them even. That cretin in London on video is the present champion. Did he ever get fired, the hobby bobby??

  29. As a photographer living in the uk, i can confirm this country has gone f*cking insane.

    Gone are the days i can wonder off into the woods/fields to do some macro photography because as far as the public are concerned, im a suspect pedo.
    Sure ive gone out with a f*ck them mentality, but its just not enjoyable anymore.

    Media frenzy + Thick public = bad news

    This as well as many other reasons has made me loathe a country i once loved.
    Im planning to leave. The sooner the better.

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