Famous architecture photographer swarmed by multiple police vehicles in London for refusing to tell security guard why he was photographing famous church


36 Responses to “Famous architecture photographer swarmed by multiple police vehicles in London for refusing to tell security guard why he was photographing famous church”

  1. ill lich says:

    cop: “Are photographing that building for some nefarious terrorist-related purpose?”

    photographer: “Of course not.”

    cop: “Right, that’s JUST the kind of denial a terrorist would make!! Hands behind your back, you’re coming with me!!’

  2. Anonymous says:

    The idiocy of such scenarios is staggering.

    Were someone with ill intent planning his deed, he could easily get all the information required on the Web, from Google Earth, Getty Images etc.

    This incident was driven by the emotional response – panic? spite? – of a civilian security guard, not by law enforcement. But, rather than respond in the properly measured way – send a Bobby or two to ask “What’s all this, then?” – they bring the hammer down in a photo op moment which, no doubt, would have been properly photographed, were they not stepping on the only decent photographer in sight.

    Failure at every step of the way.

    And no, it is not the responsibility of anyone, doing any lawful act, to give information to a rent-a-cop, no matter who employs them, when outside said rent-a-cop’s place of employment (note I did not use the word “jurisdiction”, as he has none, being a civilian).

    I would love to return to Blighty on holiday, as I haven’t been back in ages. But now I wonder if I should, given this and so many other Police State reasons. Am I to be nicked for having a camera and a bit of stubble?

  3. Joe in Australia says:

    Unfortunately for photographer’s and their rights, I believe that the perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai prepared in advance by taking photographs of their targets.

    That’s the first I’ve heard of it, but let’s stipulate that it’s accurate. They also prepared by joining a militant Islamic group, training in the use of automatic weapons, and buying bottles of water. Now, does it make sense to investigate people who buy bottled water? Of course not: it’s an innocent activity that does not usefully predict whether someone intends to commit an attack. And, they could just lie about their intent. In contrast, a member of a radical group who trains in the use of automatic weapons is a genuine and serious threat. I think it’s pretty clear that taking photographs is more like buying water than like military training.

    • chudez says:

      “They also prepared by joining a militant Islamic group, training in the use of automatic weapons, and buying bottles of water. Now, does it make sense to investigate people who buy bottled water? …I think it’s pretty clear that taking photographs is more like buying water than like military training.”

      Very well stated. **APPLAUSE**

    • Itsumishi says:

      Well said!

      In a similar vain. Many terrorists use bombs in cars.

      Should we ban or harass people using cars in public places?

      Ban or harass people with bags/packages/etc on trains because of the London Train Bombings?

      No. Quite obviously normal behaviour should be treated as such.

  4. Alessandro Cima says:

    What, I wonder, would have been the London cops’ reaction if the photographer’s explanation had not been that he was a freelance photographer? What if he had explained himself by saying, ‘I’m a strange little man with a camera?’

    What would they think they could do then? One explanation is as good as another, after all.

  5. sleze says:

    “If an officer is suspicious of them for some reason they can just go up to them and have a chat with them”

    Sounds like they were doing as they were told. He didn’t respond, they searched him, he told them who he was, they left.

    I dislike abuse of police powers as much as the next guy but the cops were responding to a complaint by a security guard (beit baseless or not) and decided to investigate. I think this one is much ado about nothing.

    • teapot says:

      I think this one is much ado about nothing.

      WRONG. Check all the corrections re: kattw’s comment. She said the same thing as you. She got burned. Cos you’re both wrong.

      3 vehicles for 1 photog? What, were they going to seperate his head, body and camera and question them seperately? Preposterous.

      More bad PR for UK cops. So glad im not a UK taxpayer.

  6. Joerg says:

    C’mon, everyone knows the saying: “Guilty until proven innocent!”

    No, wait, was that right? Now I’m confused :(

    • Sork says:

      If you are guilty of something then you get your fingerprints taken, your possessions thoroughly examined and then put in a place where you are monitored and guarded and can get your stuff examined at any time for no reason. Am I talking about prison or about traveling into USA/UK?

  7. LennStar says:

    If he would have said “I’m a terrorist planning an attack”, would they have shot him dead on the spot?

  8. NeonCat says:

    The reasoning goes like this:

    a. Communist/totalitarian countries heavily restrict public photography
    b. Communist/totalitarian countries rarely suffer from terrorism, therefore
    c. Restricting public photography will prevent terrorism.

  9. cinemajay says:

    All that because some rent-a-cop wanted someone to kiss his @$$. Nice. I wonder if the BoA guard was disciplined for not, ya know, guarding actual BoA property.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Cop: “Are you photographing this building for some kind of nefarious terrorism-related purpose?

    Photographer: “Of course not!”

    Cop: “That’s JUST the kind of denial a TERRORIST would make!! Hands behind your back!!”

  11. queenanne says:

    First draft press statement? Bank security said:
    “We approached a man who was a complete stranger and had absolutely nothing to do with us because he had a camera. Despite our extensive training, we have no idea what anyone would be doing with a camera, so we wanted to find out. When we asked him to provide his name, address and tell us what he was doing with a camera he said ‘no’. He then frowned. We have never had that happen before and deemed that a frowning man, with a camera who was ignoring us because it was none of our business to ask him what he was doing, was obviously highly suspicious. So we called the police to tell them that there was a man with a camera acting suspiciously. I really like flashing lights, so I also added that he was in our building and refused to leave – he wasn’t, but that usually makes the police send more cars with more blue flashing lights. They sent 3 cars and a riot van – it really looked exciting.
    I think this issue could have been avoided if the man hadn’t frowned. We had a good example of this last week. We approached a man and asked what he was doing. He politely gave his name. We said, ‘thank you Mr Bin Laden’ and then let him get on with taking the photos. Simple question – simple answer – everyone’s happy. A bit of diplomacy goes a long way.
    After extensive investigations, the police discovered that the frowning man with the camera was taking photographs.

  12. bigvicproton says:

    Also, Grant Smith is your average looking white guy with an average white anglo-saxon name. Had Grant looked more like say a Jean Charles de Menezes, he might be dead right now. Its surprising they didn’t at the very least take him into custody, strip search him, and confiscate some DNA. At any rate you can be sure the name Grant Smith is now in a terrorist-watch database, just in case.

    • bearchild says:

      I bet hundreds more “Grant Smith”s are going to be harassed in the future, just for having the same name as this man. Possibly even some Grant Smyths, Smithes will get trouble too.

      • TooGoodToCheck says:

        You know what would be awesome? When the terrorist watch lists – that are so easy to get on to and so hard to get off of, and which are applied with notoriously loose matching rules, finally get to large that they cover more than 3/4 of the population. Because then people who aren’t on the list will be strange and anomalous, and then they’ll get pulled into secondary screening to explain why they’re _not_ on the terrorist watch list.

        • TokenFrenchDude says:

          “they’ll get pulled into secondary screening to explain why they’re _not_ on the terrorist watch list.”

          That reminds me, I haven’t played “Paranoia” in a while…

  13. geekygirluk says:

    @ Cinemajay – I know, right?

    Also, typical Met Police. Overreact now, get forced to investigate later. Or maybe that’s just typical police.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Come on, the problem with this isn’t so much the civil rights issue as the staggeringly poor use of resources. Think about it a minute; the police are reacting to a person taking pictures of old buildings. In London. If that’s suspicious, then the special branch are going to be on the go nineteen hours a day shaking down tourists and doing nothing to follow up any real leads they may conceivably stumble across. If a security guard rings up the police station and says “There’s somebody here taking pictures” we must hope that there’s going to be some attempt at triage before they spend fifty quid of public funds sending out the flying squad.
    Honesty, the only way these clowns are going to eliminate any terrorists is by hoping they’ll laugh so much they’ll choke on their Ovaltine and die.

  15. angusm says:

    I love police speak.

    What they wrote:

    “When questioned by officers, the man declined to give an explanation and he was therefore informed that in light of the concerns of security staff and in the absence of an explanation, he would be searched under the Terrorism Act …”

    How it actually played out:

    “You! What do you think you’re doing?”
    “What does it look like I’m doing?”
    “Right! I’m ‘aving you, son. Let’s see what you’ve got in your bag, you $&%^ing little terrorist toerag!”

  16. ThomFabian says:

    Any security which depends upon the unwillingness of a terrorist to lie about why he’s taking pictures is doomed for failure.

    • Chrs says:

      My thoughts exactly. Then again, that only works if you don’t look particularly “radical”, according to a wildly suspicious police force.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Oy, you there, watcha think yer doing?
    Um, just standing here, waiting for a friend.
    Oh yeah, so why you standing next to that parked car?
    I don’t know, it was just here, you know, parked at the curb next to me.
    Is that right? I’ll have none of your smart mouth. You were planning to steal this car, weren’t you?
    What? How did you come up with that?
    Well, you’re standing there, and the car’s there – just elementary police work after that, idn’t it?
    WTF! Are you on drugs?
    Watch yer mouth.
    Hey, why are you pulling out that taser? You wouldn’t dare! I haven’t done anything wrong.
    You’re not giving me straight answers … you aren’t admitting you were about to steal that car.
    But, that’s bullshit, man, I … zzzzzzzz ….scshsh$#$#@$#%^8ajdjvhsjhoi3937!
    Hello, sarge? Got a terrorist down on Habersert Street. He attacked me, so I had to taser him. I think he’s stopped breathing.

  18. Alessandro Cima says:

    Unfortunately for photographer’s and their rights, I believe that the perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai prepared in advance by taking photographs of their targets. But that is certainly no excuse for cops or private security dicks interfering with lawful behavior.

    It’s really interesting how cameras are shoved up peoples’ butts by governments who then turn around and panic at the sight of a camera in a public place.

  19. kattw says:

    So, if we work on the insane assumption that the reporting might have been accurate, it sounds like the police DID simply walk up and try to have a chat. Had the famous photographer been a bit more cooperative (ie. said something like “I’m a freelance photographer taking pictures” to begin with, perhaps it wouldn’t have escalated? Given that that same sentence seems to have ended the whole problem, starting with it might have been a good idea.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, since it’s pretty goddamn obvious what someone is doing when he is taking pictures, and the BoA SECURITY GUARD had no right to ask him what he was doing on NON-BoA PROPERTY, not being an actual POLICE OFFICER and all, I’d say that it was not the photographer who escalated things.

    • TooGoodToCheck says:

      wtf dude? no.
      “sounds like the police DID simply walk up and try to have a chat”

      No, a rent-a-cop from BOA tried to hassle the guy, who was not even on BOA property. Rent-a-cop was clearly out of his territory. When the actual cops showed up, it was three cars and a riot van. That’s not a chat.

      Besides which, even if the initial interaction had been with a cop and not a BOA goon, it’s still inappropriate to take police action against someone who hasn’t broken any laws. Taking a picture is not probable cause. Neither is refusing to have a conversation with the police.

      To say that it’s appropriate for the police to respond in force any time someone doesn’t feel like divulging private information (who they are, what they’re doing, and why) without probable cause is to say, “Hooray for police states!”

    • mdh says:

      c’mon, try harder.

  20. WTF says:

    WTF was Grant Smith thinking of? Photographers must follow the rules so they won’t ever-ever be responsible for the outrageous waste of police resources:
    1 – Apply for a permit to photograph on public spaces available at the MoD, your local Council or TfL (a small nominal charge may apply, please check on the DirectGov website for more information)
    2 – Provide a Risk Assessment to the local Council as well as Transport for London and clearly state how he will avoid any risks to the public and how to mitigate those risks
    3 – Provide a Health and Safety statement for the same obvious reasons
    4 – Have a Public Liability insurance policy for up to £5M
    5 – Wear a high visibility safety jacket and a hard hat if photographing in the vicinity of roadworks
    6 – Send a copy of all images to the MoD and wait for clearance before making any use of the pictures
    7 – Sign the unrevocale and perpetual Crown copyright to transfer all intellectual property of the images to her Majesty
    8 – Position a warning triangle withing a few yards from a tripod (please note this does not apply for a monopod althouh a reflective band should be clearly visible on the item)
    9 – When photographing near a school, a nursery or sports grounds, a valid and recent CRB check must be clearly visible by any member of the public
    10- Provide a carbon footprint report on his photographic activities which will be evaluated by the local CRE (Carbon Reduction Enforcer) against the new british evaluation barometor: staying home watching the X Factor

  21. Dan Mac says:

    I wish British Photographers would flash mob the B of A security guards, so that they would have some explaining to their superiors as to why 400 cameras are in front of the B of A.

  22. ADavies says:

    “I’m a freelance photographer who likes to photograph buildings.”

    I hope no terrorists read Boing Boing. If they do, you’ve just told them how to fool the London police.

    (Everyone knows terrorists aren’t clever enough to figure this stuff out by themselves.)

  23. jmzero says:

    What good would a photograph of a building do? Really? What was the original theory here? And if you could learn something dangerous about a building with a photo, I’m fairly sure you could also learn that dangerous thing by looking around and remembering.

    I would have the slightest shred of sympathy for the police if they were questioning a guy who was, say, taking pictures at intervals of the bottom of a bridge – or something else where there might conceivably be:

    1. Details of a target that might be useful to study later
    2. Not thousands of photographs available publicly anyways.

    • Sork says:

      “taking pictures at intervals of the bottom of a bridge”

      My largest photographic interest is still life photography of industrial architecture. Power stations, power lines, bridges, factories, rusty decay, abstract shapes.

      I guess I must enjoy living in a country where an old bridge is not assumed next on the list after the Pentagon and WTC.

  24. Chris Tucker says:

    kattw @#6:

    “Kiss the shiny, shiny boots of leather” is a Lou Reed song, and NOT a mandatory legal obligation of citizenship.


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