BBC photographer prevented from shooting St Paul's because he might be "al Qaeda operative"

By Cory Doctorow


A BBC photographer was stopped from taking a picture of the sun setting by St Paul's Cathedral in London. A real police officer and a fake "community support officer" stopped the photog and said he couldn't take any pictures because with his professional-style camera, he might be an "al Qaeda operative" on a "scouting mission." Now, St Paul's is one of the most photographed buildings in the world (luckily, there is zero evidence that terrorists need photographs to plan their attacks), and presumably a smart al Qaeda operative with a yen to get some snaps would use a tiny tourist camera -- or a hidden camera in his buttonhole. The reporter An ex-MP goes on to describe being stopped for talking into a hand-sized dictaphone in Trafalgar Square (where thousands of people talking in their phones -- most of which have dictaphone capabilities -- can be seen at any given time).

The real damage from terrorist attacks doesn't come from the explosion. The real damage is done after the explosion, by the victims, who repeatedly and determinedly attack themselves, giving over reason in favor of terror. Every London cop who stops someone from taking a picture of a public building, every TSA agent who takes away your kid's toothpaste, every NSA spook who wiretaps your email, does the terrorist's job for him. Terrorism is about magnifying one mediagenic act of violence into one hundred billion acts of terrorized authoritarian idiocy. There were two al Qaeda operatives at St Paul's that day: the cop and her sidekick, who were about Osama bin Laden's business in London all day long.

BBC photographer on being stopped by police (Thanks, Graham!)

(Image: St Paul's, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Kieran Lynam's Flickr stream)

Published 7:56 am Mon, Nov 30, 2009

About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

72 Responses to “BBC photographer prevented from shooting St Paul's because he might be "al Qaeda operative"”

  1. Anonymous says:

    hmmm, and Google were allowed to photograph nearly every street in every western country, and publish the images where the whole planet can see them, without being stopped once. interesting.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Google were allowed to photograph nearly every street in every western country, and publish the images where the whole planet can see them, without being stopped once. interesting.”

      Not quite, at least one country, Greece, stopped Goolag from spying on them. I think Switzerland, too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just fyi, response from the last time I mentioned this :

    Dear Mr ……

    You may be aware that Boris Johnson is the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and as your letter concerns a policing matter the Greater London Authority (GLA) have passed it to us to arrange a response.

    The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place.

    At the Authority meeting held on 30 April 2009, Tim Godwin (Temporary Deputy Commissioner, MPS) stated that he would reiterate to all police officers the policy dealing with this legislation, which is that there will be no use of that power unless there is a direct link to terrorism and there is evidence to support that.

    Yvonne Peart

    Information Officer

  3. Anonymous says:

    England has two choices in response to this situation, You can react and dilute the civil liberties that made you a great country or secondly you can refuse to dilute all that made your society a model for many. The price is high either way and probably the same.

    I see the formation of a big brother state, this will rsult in bigger issues for you than Islamic extremists, those conditions will breed spawning grounds for your own internal white anglo saxin terrorists fighting the controls of a paranoid state

    Anthony
    Dublin Ireland

  4. Anonymous says:

    I ran across this a while ago, and it still makes me ill: http://www.ehow.com/how_2048594_inappropriate-pictures-landmarks.html

    The terrorists don’t hate us for our freedoms; they hate us for our cheap-ass compact cameras.

  5. Xeni Jardin says:

    @anonymous #2, the typo has been corrected.

  6. Johnny Rojo says:

    Hey: The Late Dentarthurdent

    That comment doesn’t mean it is worse to be stopped from taking a photo than to be blown up by a bomb. It means, simply, that the average person is more at risk from bacon than from terrorism. I lived in London during some of the years when the IRA was bombing things. The average Londoner shrugged it off as part of the price for living free. Anthony Wedgewood-Benn said it all-too-clearly: The greatest risk to democracy comes from fear. That is all to evident now in Britain and, increasingly so, in the late-great-USA.

  7. Ocker3 says:

    “The real damage is done after the explosion, by the victims, who repeatedly and determinedly attack their own society, giving over reason in favor of terror. ”

    There, fixed that for you.

    Is the photographer, the victim? He is the one being attacked. Is the cops the victims, they are the ones doing the attacking. Do you mean Our Society, attacking itself? Surely that would be a singular, not a plural. Or is the population the victim of an increasingly repressive government, who are doing exactly what the terrorists want them to.

    Very powerful messages fall down and lose weight when poorly delivered. Put Obama’s words into Biden’s mouth, and do our ears not bleed?

  8. Anonymous says:

    “But are you seriously saying someone being stopped from taking a picture of St. Paul’s (as stupid as that is) is worse than being blown up in a subway bombing???”

    It isn’t the one person being stopped, it’s the thousands being stopped and searched and abused who have lost their civil rights because of one bomb. Yes, 4,000 dead at the WTC is bad. But what’s worse is the 5,000 dead and 35,000 wounded fighting a pointless war in Iraq. They were killed and wounded because we hand over to government whatever our elected leaders want because of mindless fear. Terrorists have been blowing up bombs in the US since dynamite was invented but until they put a crescent and star on those bombs the US treated it as a criminal event and moved on. As Ben Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WihRqeJM-9A

    In Australia as long as you don’t look like a tewwawist you can do whatever you want.

    God Bless Australia

  10. Anonymous says:

    This story (and similar stories that I’ve read) makes me think about our society being affected by an auto-immune disease, where the normal defense systems attack the body, sometimes provoked by an actual infection, but with an overly exaggerated immune response, creating more damage than the infection on it’s own would have…

  11. Anonymous says:

    Actually the notion that we should give up our liberties and our way of life in order to protect our liberties and our way of life is a nonsense.

    Between September 1940 and May 1941 German bombing raids killed almost 40,000 civilians. That was a war with an end yet we did not surrender our freedoms to the extent we have in the last decade.

    The so called war against terror has no end. We will never entirely stop disgruntled groups from trying to kill or main to publicise their causes or further their ends. We only win by refusing to give in and that means refusing to give up those things we hold dear.

    The state of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die, taken from a toast by the Revolutionary War commander General John Stark which was; “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” We might well remember his words.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Between September 1940 and May 1941 German bombing raids killed almost 40,000 civilians. That was a war with an end yet we did not surrender our freedoms to the extent we have in the last decade.”

      I’m assuming that “we” means the British, who were the ones being bombed. We gave up many liberties at that time: we were all required to carry ID cards; our media were censored; conscription was introduced; food, clothing and fuel were rationed for up to ten years; foreigners were interned in camps; there were restrictions over travel, free speech, and assembly; the economy was converted to a command economy.

      Luckily, all those restrictions were (over time) lifted once the conflict had ended. This time we may not be so lucky.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Uh yeah, that’s why it’s called “terrorism” and not “blow-up-a-buildingism.” The whole point of the act is to inflict *terror* on a population so that they are mentally disrupted far beyond your physical capability. The blowing up the building is just the trigger.

  13. The Late Dentarthurdent says:

    Interesting story, but this:

    “The real damage from terrorist attacks doesn’t come from the explosion.”

    …is one of the most ridiculous things written on this site. Without a doubt, attacks on civil liberties post-attack are serious issues, and need to be discussed. After all, the purpose of terror attacks is to instill terror. But are you seriously saying someone being stopped from taking a picture of St. Paul’s (as stupid as that is) is worse than being blown up in a subway bombing???

    • Anonymous says:

      No, it’s true!
      A bomber made three bombs 8 years ago, and 202 people died. Since then the media have ensured that you can’t name the island without mentioning the bomb.This undeserved reputation has destroyed businesses and torn at families relentlessly for all the years since then. People die of hunger and disease on this island, people who could have lived with a bit more support: more than 202 people than in these 8 years already and the damage continues.
      It has to stop!

    • Kimmo says:

      How many are killed or hurt in one bombing? How long do those effects last?

      How many lives are affected by a given government’s completely inappropriate and disproportionate response, and for how long?

      And how do you preserve liberty by eliminating it?

    • denkbert says:

      #1: You should read the article again. Cory doesn’t compare being prevented from shooting photos with getting blown up in the subway. Rather than that, he states that the main damage is being done by the victims themselves.

      And I have seldom read words more true than that. “Terrorism” has lately been turned into a magic word that fearmongers use as an entrance card for a political all-you-can-eat-buffet, especially when it comes to restricting freedoms.

    • Anonymous says:

      What is being said is that the emotional fear after the attack that lingers for years is more damaging than the actual attack which may take about five minutes to occur and several months to clean up from.

    • Anonymous says:

      are you seriously saying someone being stopped from taking a picture of St. Paul’s (as stupid as that is) is worse than being blown up in a subway bombing?

      Not at all. However, are you seriously saying that five people being blown up in a subway bombing is worse than millions of people having their rights restricted, their belongings confiscated, and being treated like criminals by their own government?

    • Anonymous says:

      What is the point in being alive if you aren’t allowed to have a life?

    • Anonymous says:

      mate, it appears you cant see the forest from all the trees.

      the article doesnt refer to just one incident but the general idiocy of law making that is based on fear alone.

      being stopped for taking a picture becomes a larger threat to our way of life than getting blown up in the tube at the point where people enough are getting stopped. Geting stopped for taking a picture, in fact, is not the problem at all. the problem is what causes us to introduce these limitations upon ourselves and what we see on the street is merely a reflection of it

    • Anonymous says:

      You are confusing the drama of one individual impact with the cumulative social magnitude of the other. Yes, there is more drama and impact to the lives of a few individuals in being blown up. But the overall social impact of thousands of small ridiculous invasions of civil liberty by our own authorities have, in the end, a much larger cumulative negative effect, in aggregate.

  14. Camp Freddie says:

    Uh-oh. Someone better sue Microsoft for their terrorist training materials:
    http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=3e8b05cb-7602-471b-b967-579e2ec60e8a

    116 photos of St Pauls giving a highly detailed view all around the site. And that’s just the photos from one user.

    I can’t believe that we lived through the IRA bombings and never thought twice about Irish tourists, but now we treat every Union-Jack-T-shirted tourist with a camera around their neck for being a secret muslim terrorist.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know who this al Quaeda is, but I think al Qaeda might want to sue them for trademark infringement.

  16. Kimmo says:

    There were two al Quaeda operatives at St Paul’s that day: the cop and her volunteer sidekick, who were about Osama bin Laden’s business in London all day long.

    Word.

    Only governments can drive organised idiocy to greater heights than religion manages.

    Western governments are far more prolific terrorists than Al-Quaeda. All that opportunistic button-pushing makes my blood boil; we’re destroying our own societies.

    The only way to respond to Al-Quaeda’s efforts that makes any sense to me is to allow society to ignore them as much as possible. Let the g-men tackle em behind the scenes, and leave the rest of us alone.

    After all, it’s not like all that extra ‘security’ is worth a pinch of shit; it’s so obviously all posture.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAPLpHyBrlg

    One could be forgiven for forming the opinion that our increasingly tyrannical governments actually welcome terrorism… they’re not doing very much that’ll actually avoid it, and plenty to provoke it, all the while writing new powers and more impunity for themselves.

  17. Cory Doctorow says:

    You’re damned right. Spending trillions to curtail the liberties of millions for a decade is *vastly* more disruptive to society and the economy than a day’s worth of explosions and a few months’ worth of cleanup. The death toll from terrorism is infinitesimal. More people die of spoiled meat, car accidents or slip-and-falls. Terror’s major impact on society isn’t explosions, it is the creation of a terrorised, authoritarian state that victimizes its own citizens on the terrorists’ behalf.

  18. Bryan C says:

    “Hard to believe a politician once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” ”

    Yes. That would be the same politician who censored the press and routinely engaged in incredibly broad wartime domestic spying. Which, in retrospect, was a probably a pretty smart set of strategies.

    The reaction of these police officers was simply stupid. Stupid and officious police officers are not the result of terrorism.

    There’s an important difference between fear and prudence. Every policy we don’t agree with, even ones which are arguably counterproductive, are not necessarily a product of cringing sheep-like cowardice. That’s just lazy thinking.

  19. HotPepperMan says:

    I believe a simple argument is the wide availability of images of tourist locations. Just Google ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral’ or even simpler, fire up Google Earth and Street View. Voila!

    The REAL problem is people allowing the police to do this.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I know they sound very similar but Terrorism and Tourism are very different concepts. You’d think the police would know better. –Drew

  21. jonathan_v says:

    “The real damage from terrorist attacks doesn’t come from the explosion. The real damage is done after the explosion, by the victims, who repeatedly and determinedly attack themselves, giving over reason in favor of terror.”

    Thank you for putting that so clearly.

    I’ve gotten into so many arguments about this. My take is that every incident and law like this is another victory for Al Qaeda — because they’ve been very intelligently and systematically using us to destroy freedom ourselves. They just provide the spark.

  22. Kimmo says:

    Hard to believe a politician once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

    These days, that’d be giving the game away.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Cory, you nailed the problem in the title! The police don’t understand “shooting” as a euphemism for taking pictures. They think shooting is shooting is shooting. And it looks good in the statistics. “Prevented 38 shootings at St. Paul’s today.”

  24. artumi_richard says:

    The guy who talked about being stopped from using a dictaphone was Mathew Parris, ex-MP, columnist and political pundit.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Parris

  25. jessemoya says:

    “There were two al Quaeda operatives at St Paul’s that day: the cop and her volunteer sidekick, who were about Osama bin Laden’s business in London all day long.”

    I hope I never have the occasion to tell the people who most need to hear this. But I will be ready to if I’m ever stopped in public.

  26. Anonymous says:

    al quaeda operatives are smarter. they buy postcards.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous @ #13 mentioned postcards. That’s what the Japanese pilots used to identify targets at Pearl Harbor.

  28. angusm says:

    Wow. I was taking pictures of St Pauls (and the nearby Millenium Bridge, and the Tate Modern) just the other day. I had no idea how close I must have come to being apprehended by the vigilant guardians of law and order.

    Now that I have evaded capture, my shadowy masters in the international terrorist conspiracy will doubtless pay me well for my work. Using my detailed high resolution photographs, suicidal jihadis planning attacks on the capital’s monuments will easily be able to distinguish St Pauls from, say, a bus shelter or a municipal car park. Moreover, my photographs reveal that St Pauls is illuminated at night, something that has hitherto been a closely-guarded state secret. Muahahahahaha!

  29. Gilgongo says:

    “…a hidden camera in his butthole”? My god, what kind of world are we living in?

  30. dainel says:

    #1, the damage done by terrorists is incalculable. It is definitely more that £1 million. In fact, why not just give me £1 million. Surely that is a worthwhile investment to prevent another terrorist attack.

    Not that giving me the money is any more likely to affect the possibility of another attack one way or another, compare to say, stopping people photographing St Paul. But hey, it gives you something to do.

  31. behemoth says:

    PCSOs may have less powers than full police officers, but calling them “fake” is a bit much. And they definitely aren’t volunteers.
    You have a point; don’t spoil it’s effectiveness with needless hyperbole.

  32. johnnyaction says:

    Truth is the terrorists and many of those rushing to protect us from terrorists often have the same lines of internal reasoning. Both believe that the ends justify the means. Both are hard to reason with because they only accept data/reasoning that dovetails with what they already know. Both believe that they know what is best for society and will do whatever it takes to achieve their agenda.

  33. Anonymous says:

    #1, in light of the number of deaths due to the war after 9/11 I’d actually have to say the response was worse than the terrorist act that started it.

  34. Alessandro Cima says:

    I worked with a guy who announced one day that he was moving to Israel. There had been a recent spate of bombings in that country and it was the talk of the television news. I then made a very foolish comment. I said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of getting blown up?’ The guy just looked at me for a while and then said, ‘You are more likely to die driving home this evening than I am to be blown up during a lifetime in Israel.’

    I told him that he was right and that I had made one of the stupidest comments of my life. I apologized and we talked about all the wonderful things he would do in Israel.

    My advice to the impaired police of London is that if they don’t want their buildings photographed, they should simply tear them down. Deprive the terrorists of targets.

  35. MrWeeble says:

    Cory, while I fully agree with your sentiments and loath the erosion of our civil liberties, I feel I must question you on your use of language.

    Firstly you say
    > fake “community support officer”
    Are you saying that this person was not a police community support officer, or are you using the word “fake” and scare quotes because you disagree with the concept of Police Community Support Officers? If the former, please provide evidence; if the latter you should make it clear that you are intentionally over-reacting to make an political point unrelated to the question in hand. I find the idea of people running around pretending to be home office employees when they are not would be a pretty huge story, but I suspect the story does not exist it just an example of lazy language.

    Secondly you say “the cop and her volunteer sidekick”. PCSOs are not volunteers, they are paid employees of the Police Force (starting salary is £16,000+), they do not have the powers or responsibilities of Police Constables. The “volunteer” police are Special Constables who are legally considered to be FULL police constables with all the said powers and responsibilities, they are just not paid and have other jobs most of the time.

  36. coop says:

    #50 MrWeeble, There’s a difference between rank and grade, I think.

    coop

  37. Anonymous says:

    I wrote and got a reply from the Office of Boris Johnson about this the last time so am writing again to point out what they told me last time hasnt happened…..

  38. warreno says:

    In the States, at least, the terrorists” won on 12 September 2001, and we just keep on handing the victories over to them, one after another.

  39. Grumblefish says:

    The photographer was on the South Bank, shooting across the river – so maybe they’re really getting paranoid about the bridge (damn, I’ve been taking photos in London with bridges in recently, lucky escape there).

  40. mdh says:

    if the latter you should make it clear that you are intentionally over-reacting to make an political point unrelated to the question in hand.

    yeah Cory, run your blog the way this guy says!

    • Karl Jones says:

      if the latter you should make it clear that you are intentionally over-reacting to make an political point unrelated to the question in hand.

      I have to agree with MrWeeble on this one. I’m pretty sure Cory prides himself on accuracy and attention to detail (and rightly so).

      Inaccurate use of the word “fake”, and quotemarks around phrases he doesn’t like to emphasize a sarcastic political point — this kind of rhetoric isn’t up to his best standard.

  41. octopod says:

    england is a funny old place these days. if only he’d stuck to photographing something neutral like a kids playground instead.

  42. AirPillo says:

    Perhaps equating a suicide bomber or other violent martyr’s goals to the mere death of their immediate victims is naive.

    Perhaps they’re fully aware that they’re doing the equivalent of infecting our governments with an auto-immune disease.

  43. thrint says:

    This may be a bit of an over simplification but it has been going through my mind ever since the US gummit’s over-reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

    “The Terrorists Won”

    It is that simple. A terrorist’s goal is not just to terrorize. You need to look at a more basic level. Their extreme methods have indeed changed our society for the worse. They have SUCCEEDED in their goals. And we are living in a society that is a direct result of terrorist activities because so many people now live in fear and see no problem in enacting laws in response to their fear.

    • libelle says:

      You say the terrorists have won, but they haven’t achieved their stated goals of driving the infidels out of the Middle East.

      So, it looks like pretty much everyone has lost.

      The terrorists don’t attain their goals. We have spun into the cultural equivalent of an auto-immune disease. The extremists on all sides have been energized by the problems on every side.

      Pretty much, the only “win” is for the “everything’s going to hell in a handbasket” demographic :(

      • Kimmo says:

        Pretty much, the only “win” is for the “everything’s going to hell in a handbasket” demographic :(

        Maybe it actually helps, in a way?

        If you consider the overreaction to terrorism as just another symptom of what’s really wrong with the way we organise ourselves, then perhaps its ridiculous scale is alerting some folks to the invalidity of their ‘democracies’, who otherwise may not have noticed it, thanks to the work of marketing departments, spin merchants and executive producers…

        Without this terrorism furphy we would still all be forsaken by our governments to vile corporate influence… but fewer of us would be pissed off at our governments.

        Still, I guess this angle can’t be too correct given I would’ve thought Gordon Brown’s moves to a police state were too incautiously rapid to avoid widespread dissatisfaction verging on the beginnings of revolt…

        Instead he’s demonstrating just how quickly the transition can be rammed through without a peep from John Citizen. I only hope there’s a glaring miscalculation on this score in the works which serves to seriously piss off more than the small numbers of politically aware…

  44. mdh says:

    if the latter you should make it clear that you are intentionally over-reacting to make an political point unrelated to the question in hand.

    Hang on here. I think the point at hand is that only a police state needs several different grades of police officers.

    • MrWeeble says:

      An interesting theory? I would be interested to know of any state in which there is a single grade of police officer (no sergeants, no inspectors, no detectives and so on)?

  45. P1rat3 says:

    Could a pair of people who live in London please dress up in full Osama bin Laden regalia, complete with fake or real beard depending on your talent for hirsuteness, and stand out in front of St. Paul’s and take endless photos of it while repeating the terrorist lines of “Team America: World Police”? You know, something along the lines of “Durka durka mohammed jihad!”

    It is staggering how much common sense has eroded in the UK and the world in the name of “security”.

    Perhaps a bit of terrorist vaudeville will demonstrate to the citizens of the UK how ludicrous their “everyone is a terrorist until proven otherwise” policy.

    • LabRat001 says:

      Cops . . . No sense of humour. I think the response would be very Jean Charles de Menezes so I’m going to pass on that.

  46. thebelgianpanda says:

    And to think, the last time I was at St. Pauls I got quite a bit of surreptitious HD video footage of the inside. Does this make me a tare-rist?

    • valdis says:

      “And to think, the last time I was at St. Pauls I got quite a bit of surreptitious HD video footage of the inside. Does this make me a tare-rist?”

      Nope. Not a terrorist. But you *do* realize thatSt. Paul’s is copyrighted, and you committed an illegal download? You only got 2 strikes left before you’re banned from the intarwebs…

  47. Anonymous says:

    that’s very interesting. I have been stopped and questioned about my photography a couple of times. Reasons being I look like I am arab and might possibly be scouting. I am actually mexican and work as a freelance photographer but I guess we all look the same. Right now these are minor irritations, but who knows where this can lead. Racism? certainly, but I wish they would have gotten that right at least. :)

  48. ThePhotographer says:

    As I was making a phone call following the incident I was approached by a
    patrolling ‘Special Constable’ outfitted in a high visibility jacket.

    “Excuse me sir could I have a ..”

    “Thank goodness you are here, that was quick, I was only just ringing you”

    “I’m sorry sir?”

    “To report my suspicions – I have reported that man there – the one dressed
    as a security officer”

    “Why were you reporting him?”

    “He is suspicious, acting suspiciously – look..”

    (At this time the store detective/security guard is standing in the doorway
    of a shoe store with his arms folded, watching me and the special policeman)

    “..and is that suspicious?”

    “I was here in the street, taking photos, and he came out of the shop and
    started to shout at me, yelling at me to stop taking photos, that raised my
    suspicions”

    “Why? were you photographing him?”

    “No, not then, I was just taking photos of the street, I did take his photo
    when he started harassing me”

    “Why?”

    “But then I thought – that’s weird”

    “What do you mean – what is”

    “Well look its a SHOE SHOP – or so we might think. BUT if it was just a shoe
    shop – why is HE getting so excited – about a flipping SHOE SHOP?”

    “Maybe he does not want you to take photographs”

    “Of a SHOE SHOP!!? You bet he doesn’t – that’s suspicious, and look – in the
    window it says SUADE SHOES and MOCCASSINS!”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well – SUADE should be spelt SUEDE, and MOCCASSINS has just one ‘S’ not TWO
    – its looks more like ASSASIN to me, and if is was just a shoe shop, surely
    they would be able to SPELL what they SELL? – there’s something not right
    there – that’s suspicious”

    “Are you serious?”

    “Then I noticed more – look, the shop has no number on the door, there
    should be – there’s a law isn’t there, or a council thing – all premises
    have to have numbers so the postman and the fire brigade, and you, the
    police can get to a place quickly? Its just not right – I think there’s
    something going on”

    (At this point the Special Officer is joined by two uniformed police who
    have parked alongside and come over to see what is happening. The store
    detective also makes his way over to join in.)

    Security Guard: “He was taking pictures of the shop”

    Special Constable “Thank you sir, please go back to the shop and we will see
    you shortly”

    (Guard returns, half way to shop, then leans against parking meter to watch)

    Me: “I told you he was suspicious – look he’s wearing shoes..”

    Constable “What??”

    “He’s wearing shoes – look – like that guy, you know the one on the plane
    Richard whatever, Richard Reeves (actually Richard Reid – ed.) the shoe
    bomber – he was wearing shoes”

    “Sir, we are all wearing shoes – how does that make HIM suspicious, YOU are
    the only one with a camera ?”

    “Did you see his watch – his watch! It said half past THREE! – its half ten
    here – his watch is on some other time zone, and look at the uniform, its
    not his size – look at the trousers – that’s not his outfit – I bet, or full
    of bombs or something, like that other guy on the plane, Omar wassisname”

    “Sir, I think you might be over reacting – I think he wanted you to stop
    taking photos of his shop”

    “I don’t think its HIS shop, and anyway, if there’s nothing going on in the
    ‘shoe shop’ why the fuss – I am not stopping him taking photos of me! I’ve
    got nothing to hide!”

    “He wasn’t was photographing you – was he? – HE isn’t?” (constable points at
    my camera)

    “Yes he is, and STILL is doing, they are taking photos of me right now, and
    you and your colleagues, all of us, all the time you haver been here, look
    there in the shop – on the ceiling – that’s a dome full of cameras – he’s
    taking my photo right now – that’s suspicious”…”I think you should take a
    look into that shop, there’s something going on, they’re making crack
    cocaine in the back, or all the shoes are knock-offs or its a brothel or
    money laundering or a bomb factory upstairs or something, look, in the
    window upstairs – they’re all looking down at us right now…”

  49. Camp Freddie says:

    Well, many countries have 2 grades. Usually it’s a civil police and a gendarmerie. In the UK, we don’t have any gendarmes.

    The hostility towards CSOs is different. They have no police powers of arrest, but they can require names and addresses of anyone who they suspect of certain anti-social crimes (vandalism/drink/drugs), and they can perform citizen’s arrests. This is not controversial and is normally seen as a good thing, since it’s a waste to use fully paid-up cops to go around telling the kids to get off the lawns.

    The controversy comes from their powers under the terrorism act to stop and search anyone in an authorised area (i.e. London) and other powers of detention that may be granted to them by a chief constable. I think these powers were designed to be used in emergencies, but they seem to be used all the time.

    As a result, they become a somewhat sinister force who can do nothing except stop and search anyone they don’t like the look of. They have no more power to arrest a criminal than I do, so they spend their time harassing people. Combine this with proposed ID cards and we’ll have a proper police state.

  50. Anonymous says:

    You’re right; the real problem is in the long-lasting fear and irrationality produced by terrorism. It’s encouraged by our over-politicized “news” outlets and exploited by the people we elect to place in leadership positions.

    The end result is culture, or lack thereof, you see around you every day now. The disenfranchised, ignorant and hostile public, the incessantly panicked screaming of the televisions and the opaque, double-speak of the shyster leadership, slowly locking-down our lives and making it easier to milk taxes from us for their own ends.

    In short, we may not want society to exist in fear. But our leaders do. It’s like herding sheep; when the sheep are frightened, they sink into a single group that can be manipulated and sent in whatever direction is desired. But when the sheep feel fine, it’s almost impossible to get them all going the same direction. You have to scare them first, and that’s what Al-Qaeda did for our leaders. It got us in a position where they could herd us along as they desired.

    • Chinny Racoon says:

      The newspapers in the UK are particularly vile, at least 4 are the hate mongering ‘EVERYONE WILL BE MUSLIM BY 2020′ type thing. The lies they peddle on a daily basis are absorbed by people. They are pretty much unregulated. One of them recently stated on the front page of the international edition ‘BRITAIN IS FULL’. It’s just disgusting.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        One of them recently stated on the front page of the international edition ‘BRITAIN IS FULL’.

        We all agree that Britain is full. It’s just a question of what it’s full of.

  51. Xopher says:

    As someone who lost coworkers and friends on 9/11, and who could have been killed myself had I gotten up earlier that day, I would like to categorically state that I’d rather have a hundred 9/11s than have the United States turn into the kind of society that Bush/Cheney/Limbaugh/Beck and all their unholy kindred have tried, and are continuing to try, to turn it into.

  52. Anonymous says:

    The damage comes not from the stopping of one photographer, but from the culture of fear that this is a part of. As a society we are constantly under pressure, constantly being reminded to be afraid. This enables the terorists, so they win, but it also empowers the government – who are supposed to be our servants. Look back in history at any similar time and you’ll find that it didn’t end well.

  53. Teresa Nielsen Hayden says:

    You’re right about St. Paul’s constantly being photographed. I just typed St. Paul’s London into Flickr and got 53,420 results. There’s probably someone photographing St. Paul’s this very moment. So: do we have any idea why they stopped this guy in particular?

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