Another London photographer arrested for "terrorism" (i.e. "taking a picture of a public building")

A photographer who spent his whole life photographing and painting around his home neighbourhood of Elephant and Castle in London was arrested under anti-terror laws and jailed, his DNA and fingerprints taken. He was released after five hours, once his Member of Parliament intervened. Under current policies, his DNA will remain on file forever -- though the EU has ordered Britain to cease this practice.
With a studio near the 1960s shopping centre at the heart of this area in south London, he is a familiar figure and is regularly seen snapping and sketching the people and buildings around his home – currently the site of Europe's largest regeneration project. But to the police officers who arrested him last week his photographing of the old HMSO print works close to the local police station posed an unacceptable security risk.

"The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act," he recalled.

Photographers criminalised as police 'abuse' anti-terror laws (Thanks, Marilyn!)


  1. remember the leak of the National Party membership list? Wouldn’t it be ironic if a similar police list got out?

  2. Glad to see the UK has the guts and foresight to neutralise these sleeper agents before they can supply Al Quaeda with too much intel.

    Thanks to the quick actions of the London Police, the occupants of the tactically sensitive “old HMSO print works” can sleep easy tonight.

    Great job, officers!

  3. christ, every day there’s one more reason not to go anywhere near that asinine police state. they’ve become such a parody, except it’s not funny.

  4. yeesh. talk about overzealous!

    Years ago, when i started drawing The Walking Dead, i had to draw a hospital, so i went to the hospital in my hometown to take some reference pictures. i showed up just after visiting hours had ended and tried to go in, and a nurse told me it was closed, so i turned around and took pictures of the front of the building from the street. Evidently, this disquieted the lady and she called the cops on me, because i got pulled over and hassled later, when i was downtown taking additional reference pictures, and was told that there had been a report of suspicious activity at the hospital.

    thankfully i didn’t undergo anything like this poor guy.

    …sigh.. i don’t know whether to laugh or weep.


  5. Where did this idea that terrorists must have photos of targets they intend to attack come from?

    Even if they did require photos, I doubt they would stand right out in the open taking them. Photos of just about any building could be easily taken from a moving car with very little chance of detection.

  6. I think it’s more likely Obama will adopt insanity than the reverse. His balking on closing Guantanamo in lieu of a method of accepting trial evidence obtained under coercion is troubling.

  7. @12: Indeed. Perhaps it’s a dialectical problem. The difference in pronunciation between “tourist” and “terrorist” can be very minor in some local variants. Could be some local authority misinterpreted it to say “Anti-Tourism Act”

  8. *sigh* It used to be that this sort of thing only happened behind the Iron Curtain.

    At least there’s a “Parliamentary All-Party Photography Group”. Maybe something will come of that.

    #6: Tony Moore: Walking Dead is awesome!

  9. Thank God I have left that dreadful country! The UK has more surveillance cameras per capita than anywhere in the world and is now seemingly, more paranoid than the old Iron Curtain countries. My how we used to laugh as children when we were told not to photograph bridges and government buildings on a school trip to Yugoslavia! How could we even begin to guess that it would become even WORSE in the UK!

  10. “8 posted by Takuan , January 11, 2009 10:34 PM

    That would be the canadian police, lol.

    UK info is here :

    Contact the London Mayor here :

    Complain to your MP here :

    You generally will get a response from your MP if you right to them, I do from mine :)

  11. TAKUAN @8: That link you posted seems to be for the complaints process for some Canadian London. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear from you, but probably won’t be able to do anything about the Metropolitan Police’s policy on overly curious photographers.

  12. The thing I found most shocking about this episode was that someone who isn’t a billionaire managed to get hold of a Member of Parliament and get him to do something useful in the space of five hours. There aren’t too many countries where that could happen.

  13. When people carrying guns become paranoid like this, it’s only a matter of time before accidents happen.

  14. It’s worth pointing out that he was arrested for what’s known in the UK As a _KNIFE CRIME_ (!). He was caught in possession of an offensive weapon, banned under UK (case) law; a locking blade knife. Which is a crime, whether you’re a white, middle-aged, middle-class man (as per the article), or a hoodie wearing inner city thug.

    Personally I don’t think that should be a crime, and the police shouldn’t have arrested him in the first place. But he has committed a crime, and one that has recently been a very serious media issue in the UK, one that the government has been advocating mandatory custodial sentences for. The photographer is probably very lucky not to be in jail.

  15. Sooner or later people should start suing the cops for, in essense, being idiots that don’t even know their own job.

  16. @#16 Sir Ominous
    Google image is nothing, checkout Google maps. Add to that computer literate badguys hideout to target most direct route avoiding bad traffic=Omg. Wait the gunmen in India had gps, be careful walking about with those next the Metropolitan Police will put 2and2 together.

  17. @#7

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about the same thing. Do the terrorists ever confess during interogation that, “Well sure, there was no way we could have pulled it off had not that agent of ours stood there for half an hour openly taking pictures of the outside of the building.”?

  18. The EU has not ordered the UK to stop holding the DNA of people who are not acquitted; that was the European Court Of Human Rights (ECHR), which is part of the Council Of Europe, which is unrelated to the EU.

    In March 2009, however, the UK implements an EU directive that forces ISPs to keep your emails for a year.

    Put simply: the ECHR is usually on our side; the EU not so.

  19. I just posted a comment on another blog with links to a similar story and will say the same here, this shit is getting waaaay out of hand now. I don’t know if it’s as bad in Scotland as down south but I’ll soon find out as I’ve just retrieved my camera from the clutches of my ex-wife and I’m about to start snapping again. I live just round the corner from Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament so no prizes for guessing what I’ll be using as models to get back up to speed.

    I’m not going to encourage any overzealous cops to display their ignorance of the laws of the land but I’m sure not going to hold back or think for a second “maybe I shouldn’t photograph this building in case I get in trouble”. Hell with them. If they want to try to lock me up and take DNA samples for the heinous crime of letting some photons land on a piece of silicon they’ll have to fight me every step of the way.

  20. Locking blade knives are not banned in the UK, if you have a “valid reason” for carrying one.

    On Dec 15, I rang the Met’s non-emergency line to find out if it was lawful for me to carry my Leatherman Skeletool with its locking blade. I was told the above, and given this case ID to quote if the issue ever arose: CHS2082

    You can confirm this for yourself by ringing +44 (0)300 123 1212.

  21. Takuan: the first knife you linked to isn’t a locking blade knife at all, since there is no lock mechanism to hold the blade open.

    That said, it seems bizarre for the law to make a distinction between locking and non-locking blade knives. If one considers otherwise equivalent knives, with one locking and one non-locking, I would think that they would both be equally dangerous to the target of a knife attack; the only difference would be that the non-locking one would be more dangerous for the attacker, and would also be more dangerous to someone using it legitimately. I’ve certainly come close to hurting myself with non-locking blades in ways that would be impossible with a locking one.

  22. @ECOBORE #15 “That dreadful country”

    Pffft! Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloid media/blogs.

    There have always been petty officials, and will always be, in every country in the world.

    It’s hardly like Communist Europe here. I think you need a little dose of perspective.

  23. Thanks Cory – this is the sort of thing where one can end up thinking ‘should I keep reporting these? they’re getting a bit repetitive’ – it’s a judgment call, but I’d say these are still well worth reporting, partly on principle, partly because it’s not like there’s a constant barrage of posts like this, and partly because the issue is so crazy it’s hard not to think/hope it can be fixed if we point out how crazy it is loud enough and often enough.

  24. I’m thinking that someone managed to confuse the term “Tourist” and “Terrorist” at one point and it just stuck. Hmm, if you say both words with just the right accent they do sound very similar.

  25. Americans about about to have a president who, among other things, promised to filibuster, then voted for, instead, FISA, and dodged all of the important questions about civil rights. People get the government they deserve, and Americans are about to get theirs: four years of BushLite.

    The solution is to vote them out. Apparently not enough people in this country or in England are concerned about what’s happening to do that, in spite of the whining on the internet. Kucinich was the ONLY left candidate in the election, and I voted for him. But the Republicans are apparently correct: this is a right of center country. Don’t say it’s not true: voting tells the story.

  26. though I’m sure the London, Ontario police could use some yelling at just on general principles.

    Ha! My hometown finally makes the news!

    There’s not much point in yelling at the London, Ontario police, though, since the local drama queen chief quit, got a job in Toronto, quit after some corruption scandals, and got a cushy OPP job. His main claims to fame were harassing cruisers in the men’s washroom of the public library and overseeing brutal takedowns of peaceful protesters.

    OK…issue at hand…what is wrong with people? What do they think stopping people from taking pictures of public buildings is going to do?

    Keep passing around those tiger-repellant rocks, guys. OBVIOUSLY it’s working. Sheesh.

  27. On this subject I got an email from the government today (!)
    It said

    You signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to ‘clarify the laws
    surrounding photography in public places.’The Prime Minister’s Office has responded to that petition and you can view it here:

    I can summarise the Government’s response, for the link-weary.

    “Of course you can photograph things, unless we say you can’t, in which case we will tase you”

  28. I live in the US. And I’ve had rent a cops, real cops and other dickwads tell me I can’t photo this or that. Prior to the evil and vile Patriot Act, I could tell them to pound sand. But now ever fascist rent a cop/real cop with a dream and craving for unlimited power over their betters can just fall back on the now tried and true (“I’ll call you a terrorist if you don’t listen to me!”) What a crock.

    Whenever I hear or read (“…in these post 9/11 patriot act times..) as the excuse for cops telling me I can’t take a pic, I just roll my eyes and think “WHAT UTTER BULLSHIT.” A terrorist would take covert images, operate covertly, and you’d never catch him. I AM CREATING ART with my camera you stupid fascist pig assholes!

    People walk about snapping images with cell phones all days long, doing whatever they like. Those images are immediately mailable to anyone, anywhere. MY CAMERA IS NOT ABLE TO DO THAT!

    People are generally assholes for letting this happen unchecked.

  29. This kind of institutional violence is only on the increase. It will eventually collapse. Perhaps it should be helped along in that direction?

  30. Angstrom, I got the same message just now:

    “Thank you for your e-petition asking for clarification of the law on photography in public places.

    There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. However, the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place. So there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations, inflame an already tense situation, or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to avoid a public order situation, or for the person’s own safety or welfare, or for the safety and welfare of others.

    Each situation will be different and it would be an operational matter for the police officer concerned as to what action if any should be taken in respect of those taking photographs. Anybody with a concern about a specific incident should raise the matter with the Chief Constable of the relevant force.”

  31. For the police, harrassing a photographer in the street is way easier than trying to track down some scumbag that smashed a car window or mugged an old lady. Like proper police work.
    Anything to tick the quota boxes, eh? Surprised he wasn’t also placed on the sex offender’s list as well, just in case there were children somewhere in the vicinity.

  32. This page has a printable PDF guide about photographers rights in the UK (though I don’t know whether it is up-to-date or not). I printed a copy and keep it in my wallet, just in case I encounter an over-enthusiastic plod while snapping shots of something.

    Regarding knives, AFAIK it’s legal to carry a knife in the UK provided the blade does not lock and is less than 3 inches long. Above that, things can get tricky, and if there isn’t a legitimate reason and the knife isn’t in a bag or tool box or something, you could find yourself with big problems

  33. Cory, one has to wonder what might constitute a “valid reason” for the constable who is already searching your pockets or kit bag.

    Arkizzle, the same question. “Security considerations” can mean pretty much whatever the police wish it to mean.

  34. Just a small point about the post:

    Under current policies, his DNA will remain on file forever — though the EU has ordered Britain to cease this practice.

    It wasn’t the EU that decided the fingerprint retention policy was against fundamental rights. It was the European Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Council of Europe system.

    The EU and Council of Europe have no direct relationship -they just have many of the same member states. The EU may eventually join it though as part of the Treaty of Lisbon. Further, the defunct Constitutional Treaty would have enshrined the ECHR into EU law, but that didn’t happen.

    The ECHR is able to apply rulings to the UK since it has joined the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and incorporated it (with some exceptions and provisos) into UK law.

  35. I voted for Obama. I am open to the idea of higher taxes if they will expand the services and quality of life available in my community. I think the ACLU does absolutely vital work in the US. I get a lump in my throat once in a while when I see those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials.

    I also got a Columbia M16-14SF knife as a groomsman gift and a Winchester 12-gauge pump with the shortest barrel permitted by law as a wedding gift. Through all the faux-manly neocon saber-rattling and the jingoistic, reactionary abandonment of respect for civil rights, damn I still love being an American.

    Oh, and lest I get disem-voweled, the knife has never cut anything more vicious than a stubborn safety seal on a jar of bird food, and the shotgun has never been aimed at anything more interesting than a milkjug on my buddy’s South Texas organic farm.

  36. #27 Cory Doctorow

    IANAL but..

    This is still a grey area of law, in DPP v Harris 1993, it was established that a locking knife is not ‘capable of folding’ as required by the 1988 act. I think Harris got 3 years. His knife was more like #22 Takuan’s second example, and the police claimed he’d said it was for ‘self defence’ – which is absolutely not a valid reason under the act.

    For #22 Takuan’s first one, you don’t need a valid reason because the blade is 3 inches long and definitely capable of folding.

    If you have two big machetes and an axe in the back of your car a valid reason would be ‘I am a gardener AND I am on my way to / back from work’.

    A skeletool would be more like ‘I was using it earlier and it’s still in my pocket’, but unfortunately (although in my experience the British police are remarkably reasonable) whether or not you get arrested is up to the police.

    British law is a mess rather than a totalitarian conspiracy. You can, for example, if you’re Scottish and wearing a kilt and the rest of it, walk around legally with a dagger in your sock. It’s part of your ‘national dress’.

  37. @ #49:

    Takuan, many observant sikhs do carry a kirpan, or ceremonial dagger, which would most likely be covered under the same exception as the Scots’ sock daggers. It is one of the 5 “k”s of Khalsa (the others are Punjabi words for the bangle, uncut hair, special underpants, and ceremonial wooden comb) My father-in-law, a somewhat less observant Sikh, still carries a standard plastic comb out of habit, but not a pocket knife. Go figure. :-)

  38. then virtually every religion, cultural, group etc. can no doubt find something in their history justifying the carrying of an edged implement as a cultural right. Even Jedi are allowed their light sabers. (a recognized religion now)

  39. While I am all for loopholes that increase one’s civil liberties, I think you would need to show evidence of a widespread cultural practice in order to have that argument work. And by the way, if you can find out where to get a working light saber to test that theory, I will be your best friend regardless of whether it works or not.

  40. “widespread cultural practice “! Excellent! You grasp the main point. “widespread cultural practice” is whatever the people say it is, provided they do it. Let’s see the court system choke to death on trying thousands of cases of people carrying penknives claiming ancient heritage.
    The cops are knowingly abusing a law designed to get murder weapons out of the hands of thugs. Fight back. Make them ludicrous.

  41. “Fiona Mactaggart: The Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence for a person to have a bladed or sharply pointed article—other than a small folding pocket knife—in a public place, without good reason, with the onus on the knife carrier to show they have a good reason for carrying it. However, the Act exempts Sikhs from criminal prosecution on the grounds that the kirpan is a religious article. Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam 1999 and the Human Rights Act 1998 also protect the right of individuals to follow their chosen religion.”

    ‘s tha bleedin Church of Python, innit? s’ me pointed stick!

  42. Could we consider technology a suitable a base for a religion? If Sikhs can carry daggers, why we shouldn’t be allowed to carry multitools?

  43. The piece about the guy in Elephant and Castle appears to have nothing to do with any recent laws directly/indirectly to do with 9/11.

    According to the PDF file somebody linked to in another comment, the Official Secrets Act 1911 prohibits taking pictures of factories belonging to the Crown, in this case a printworks belonging to HMSO.

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