Video: English cops terrorism-harassing photographer for taking photos of town Christmas decorations

Bob Patefield, an English amateur photographer, video-recorded an outrageous Terrorism Act stop-and-search in Accrington town centre last December, where he was stopped by a police community support officer (a kind of junior copper) who told him he was under suspicion of terrorism for taking pictures of the Christmas celebration -- Santa Claus, a pipe band, and so on.

Patefield asked if the officer had any "reasonable, articulable suspicion" to justify him giving his details.

She replied: "I believe your behaviour was quite suspicious in the manner in which you were taking photographs in the town centre ... I'm suspicious in why you were taking those pictures.

"I'm an officer of the law, and I'm requiring you, because I believe your behaviour to be of a suspicious nature, and of possibly antisocial [nature] ... I can take your details just to ascertain that everything is OK."

Patefield and his friend maintained that they did not want to disclose their details. They were stopped a third and final time when returning to their car. This time the officer was accompanied by an acting sergeant. "Under law, fine, we can ask for your details - we've got no powers," he said. "However, due to the fact that we believe you were involved in antisocial behaviour, ie taking photographs ... then we do have a power under [the Police Reform Act] to ask for your name and address, and for you to provide it. If you don't, then you may be arrested."

Photographer films his own 'anti-terror' arrest (Thanks, Chris and everyone else who suggested this!)


  1. “Under law, fine, we can ask for your details – we’ve got no powers,”

    You have to love it when the first thing out of a police bully’s mouth is “Do what I say, because I can’t force compliance”.

  2. One thing I noticed (and please don’t construe this as me defending the police in this matter) is at how patient they were through this process. They took time to at least hold a somewhat civil conversation about it. I couldn’t help but think that if this happened in the U.S., those two men would have been thrown to ground by the police two minutes into the affair.

    So credit where credit is due there. No, they shouldn’t have confronted or arrested the men, but at least they were civil about it.

    1. “I couldn’t help but think that if this happened in the U.S., those two men would have been thrown to ground by the police two minutes into the affair.”

      I travel all over the US for work and generally carry a camera with me everywhere I go. I have never been harassed for taking photos by actual police officers. The scourge of the American photographer is the rent-a-cop and to a lesser degree the TSA and business owners.

      Many people in the USA suffer from the delusional idea that they have the right to order you to stop photographing anything they own. I often tell people who are screaming at me to call the police. Once or twice I have called them myself. On the occasions when the police have shown up, they have always quickly taken my side (I always shoot from public property).

      1. I wasn’t actually saying that cops would take issue with photographers in this country. Rather, I was making the point that cops in this country wouldn’t be so patient and civil as those were in the video.

  3. I’m vacationing in Istanbul right now and am terrified of the police for the same reason. I love to take pictures and feel that I can really show the cities that I visit from my own perspective. As opposed to just taking the same old vacation photo’s everyone has seen before. next week I’ll be in barcelona for ten days for the marathon and also to take pic’s but again I find that I am less likely to take photo’s. since cameras are terrorist tools. I’m also more likely to act like a suspect since I’m all ready terrified of the police. I hide my camera in a backpack and everything. only taking it out for a quick shot then putting it right away as quickly as possible to avoid being seen. last thing I need is to be arrested in a country where I cannot speak the language because I took a picture of a bridge.

    1. #4, I spent almost a week in Istanbul (and all around Turkey too) and NEVER felt intimidated by the police. I never had a problem taking photos. In fact Istanbul has special police just to help tourists (e.g. fraud, theft, etc).

  4. The reason they are polite is that they are PCSOs. They’re not real police — they’re volunteers. They don’t have any more power than a civilian.

    Besides which, there is a world of grey shading between “polite” and “throw them to the ground”…

    1. PCSOs are not volunteers – they are paid (but less well than normal police), they don’t have the power of arrest.

      You also have Special Constables, who are volunteers (unpaid – although they might have expenses paid, I don’t know). Special constables have full powers of arrest as I understand it.

      I despair that my country has gone this way, and there’s very little I can do about it, since neither of the 2 big parties seem to care, and as much as I’ll campaign for the Lib Dems I can’t see them getting into power. (I’m not going to try to go further into politics, as I respect BB’s wish to avoid all threads turning political, but if you’re a brit and opposed to this, please do your research before voting).

  5. police community support officer (a kind of junior copper)

    Not really the case. Despite their paramilitary garb PCSO’s are functionally closer to street sweepers or traffic wardens than they are to *real* police officers.

    PSCOs (aka pseudo-plods) have no royal warrant, no right of arrest beyond that in common law, and answer directly to the Home Office, not to the (supposedly apolitical) hierarchy that regulates the police.

    Think of them as reincarnated East German blockwarts, or as the ARP warden from “Dad’s Army”, and you’re not far off what these bumptious, officious little twerps are like. Even the police think they’re embarrassing nerks.

  6. I wonder how long it will take before a public official is harassed for the same thing while on holiday. It seems like only then will there be proper attention paid to this sort of thing.

  7. @shadowfirebird – they are not volunteers, but rather employed but non-warranted staff. Special constables are the volunteers.

    Very depressing.

  8. How exactly is using a camera in any way ‘anti-social’? I couldn’t tell from the video but I doubt they were taking upskirt photos or running around, leaping out of bushes at people and photographing the results.

    Anti-social behaviour is rapidly becoming the same excuse ‘terrorism’ is – a free pass for doing whatever they want, irrespective of our individual rights for ‘our own good’.

    Credit where credit is due though, the police officers, while in the wrong, didn’t overreact and taser the poor people. They didn’t exactly explain how they decided such behaviour was ‘anti-social’ though. Do they even have to account for their decisions in cases like these?

    1. They have the power to detain you for up to 30 minutes, so that a proper policeman/woman can turn up and deal with you. The theory is that the proper policeman/woman has additional training in how to use their discretion. I’m not sure why this is a good idea – it’s basically policing on the cheap.

  9. Under terrorism laws they have no power to demand your details – they can ask, but they have no power to compel you should you refuse, and can’t arrest you for refusing.

    Under ‘anti-social behaviour’ laws, they HAVE the power to compel you to give your details and CAN arrest you if you refuse to give them.

    There is apparently not much of a law to prevent police making shit up, harassing and falsely arresting law abiding people with cameras (and without).

    The female pco at no point states that she is stopping the guy because of anti-social behaviour until after she’s consulted with the male colleague, and yet her allegation (that she wants their details because of the ‘angle’ of lens) is clearly an ‘anti-social’ matter. The first thing she goes for is ‘terrorism’.

    So-called anti-social behaviour powers are far more illiberal and prone to abuse than most of the terrorism laws.

    It would be nice to know if the photographer is making a complaint and how far he takes it.

  10. Call me ignorant but I seriously do not know the answer to this: Is there any proof that terrorists indeed photograph their intended targets? I mean they’ve got google earth, who needs a camera?

  11. The correct way to deal with every one of these nutty PCSOs is to decline to comply and to insist on going to the station and speaking to a real officer. They will fuss and flap and try to stop you from doing this. When you get them to the station, there will be a mild panic, and the senior officer on duty will come down and mumble something that isn’t quite an apology. Tell him you want to file a complaint. Don’t let him talk you out of it.

    Technically you can just file a complaint with the IPCC directly, but there won’t be a paper trail and the PCSO will just lie about it.

    1. Britain seems to be really into antisocial behavior these days. Don’t just file a complaint against the PCSO’s, insist on pressing charges for an ASBO offense!

  12. we believe you were involved in antisocial behaviour, ie taking photographs

    Nice. Now all we need to do is declare something antisocial and we can harass to our heart’s content.

    All this photography terrorism stuff just makes me glad I saw London years ago. I don’t need to go back until they get their police under control.

  13. Isn’t it nice to know that taking photographs (being a tourist or local documenting a festival) is considered to be antisocial behavior? And the aberrant behavior by the officer, therefore in context is social behavior?

  14. If you think England is bad, wait till you try to take films in Israel. The reason you don’t see films such as this out of Israel is they’d ever let him get that far.

  15. Help me out Brits. When did taking pictures of public holiday festivities become anti-social? What possible net, positive outcome was touted as the justification for these anti-social behavior laws?

  16. Think about it. They are hosting the Olympics in London in 2012. When I see the mess in Vancouver, I can’t imagine in a country where taking picture is considered as anti-social behaviour.

    1. Of course taking pictures isn’t anti-social behaviour. Its just that the cop had to use something to try to force the guy to yield and under the anti-social behaviour law he had something he could use.
      Come to London in 2012 – Take lots of pictures. Everything will be fine.

  17. Why do the people of the UK put up with this? Has the UK become such a boring, safe place that they have to see boogy-men behind every corner (and camera)? I’ve realized that people constantly need an enemy in their lives to fight. We’ve replaced cave bears and lions with fantasies of pedophiles and terrorists everywhere. What the UK needs is mental therapy, not psychopathic police.

    1. The reason we put up with this is that most of us don’t experience it. The reason this kind of thing makes the papers is because it is rare, as well as being loony. Most of us take pictures of all sorts of things without any hassle from the police at all.

    2. Why do the people of the UK put up with this?

      We don’t. The problem is with the PCSO system, which is looking very likely to get cut back or scrapped after the next election. They have a horribly high rate of disciplinary action against rogue PCSOs like this one. More than a few of them get fired. What you have to realise is that each time something like this happens, it’s a new idiot in uniform. As fast as they can get kicked out, more of them get hired, with insufficient screening and training.

      None of this represents government or police policy or the state of the law in the UK. It’s just some nutters being allowed to walk around in uniform without supervision, as part of one of Labour’s crazy schemes.

  18. I don’t justify the police in this situation. But I heard many times that police in UK is one of best in the world, and I still think so. The patience and politeness was pretty high.

  19. PCSO = virtually untrained mall cop that the british people somehow gave “just enough powers to be annoying” to.

    And yes, 2012 ought to be fun. The alternative is what they did in Vancouver for 2010 – lowered the bar for security officers (I’d prefer to use the word “eliminated” but that has negative connotations and stuff)

    Either way, security theater.


    Up until last year security guards wishing to work in B.C. had to undergo rigorous training and apply for a license from the provincial Solicitor-General’s ministry.

    But in an effort to help companies recruit and train temporary guards, the government changed the legislation in September to allow companies to obtain 90-day licenses for employees who would not need to be trained.

    On Friday, one of the partners in a consortium called Contemporary Security Canada said it will need to use that legislation in order to meet the demand for Olympic security screeners.

    “I know we’re planning on taking advantage of the temporary license provisions but these people will have to be supervised,” said Jane Greene, the president of Aeroguard Group.

  20. It’s worth knowing that PCSO cannot perform a stop-search under Section 44 (Terrorism Act 2000) without the supervision of a police constable. It’s in the public’s better interest to refuse such a search, and request the proper supervision that the law demands. This is apparently the only way PCSO actually learn what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

  21. OK, I might not be a big fan of the British police of late… and they certainly aren’t a big fan of me, but we really need to get over this ‘Junior copper’ thing with regard to PCSOs…

    I know it’s not the first time this comment has been made here, but it bears repeating. There are plenty of PCSOs out there who do a great job acting as a community liason in a way that traditional police people can’t. That is, their lack of ‘official powers’ allows them to be tolerated on estates and such.

    Also, belittling someone because of their job is pretty low… calling them ‘junior coppers’ is like calling a blogger a ‘wannabe writer’…

    I accept that the implementation of their roles and the failings of our police force in general needs to be looked at in a critical way, and I can’t deny that there are a few poor ones out there, but I’m pretty sure name calling isn’t the way to go.

  22. Ah, I think I see the problem. Someone with lously spelling skills must have written tourism instead of terrorism on some imoprtant document somewhere, leading to our apparent war on tourism. Think about it: “Tourism” is pretty close to the way some Americans actually say “terrorism.”

  23. Heh! Lously…imoprtant…What was I saying about spelling skills? Ackshully, eye im uh verry gud spellr, but eye thenk mye keebored haz bin drenking.

  24. I didn’t realize that the “War on Christmas” that Fox News is always going on about was being waged by camera-wielding terrorists.

    1. Haha! We’ll know that phase of the “War on Christmas” has begun when we see weapons disguised as cameras. Canon cannon, anyone?

  25. Not that I’m defending the actions of the police officers in this clip, but there appears to be more to this story than meets the eye when you look into the photographer involved, Bob Patefield.

    I’ll spare you the nitty gritty, and simply direct you to the “North East Truth” site, of which Bob is a member —

    This is an organisation whose ideology seems to involve some deliberately provocative interactions with the police (among many other things that I can’t quite make sense of) — take a look at this clip posted by another NET member for an idea:

    Now I’m not suggesting that Bob Patefield was doing anything other than exercising his legal rights when accosted in this clip, but his connection to the ‘North East Truth” site raises some interesting questions, don’t you think?

  26. Whilst I thought that Bob P started out being relatively polite, there is a point in the video (yes, I watched the whole thing) around the 6 min mark where the senior police officer (not the PCSO or the WPC) says categorically that BP must provide his details, quoting “Section 2” and starts talking about the penalty of non-compliance, e.g. arrest. At this point *I* would have handed over my details (and subsequently filed a formal complaint) whereas BP continues to avoid doing so, even though the police officer had told him that he had to provide the details on pain of arrest. I lost my sympathy (well, most of it) for BP at that point – he just seemed to turn into a truculent old sod.

    However, the police just seemed like they were fishing for something (anything) to get BP to knuckle down: firstly the anti-terrorist spiel (read: b*llocks) from the PCSO, then the grumpy WPC who starts in on the anti-social behaviour line (seems to be a fantasy, but we don’t really know how BP and his mate were actually acting) followed by the senior PC obviously being a bit flabbergasted that BP wasn’t going to bow to more vague comments that ‘it’s the law, innit’ and finally boxing BP in with what seems to have been a genuine statement of the law after casting around for bloody ages.

    Final score on the moral scale? Bob wins, just.

  27. Has anyone suggested requiring police officers to spend a week in Iraq or Afghanistan before trying their hands at “spot the terrorist”? A little first-hand experience might be instructive. Just a thought.

  28. It’s like the Royal Society for Putting Things on top of Other Things got bored and branched into law enforcement. Or is that non-law enforcement?

  29. In Britain it would probably be a good idea to only identify yourself as Guy Fawkes to these fake police officers. Even print up some pseudo-ID complete with mask.

  30. In addition, pilots are currently being run throughout the UK to arm regular beat police officers with tazers. When you see the kind of absurdities committed by modern UK police in the name of “security”, it makes me shudder to think they may soon have that kind of (literal) power in their hands.

    Think how differently this likely would have gone if these had been police officers and if they had had tazers.

    (At the moment in the UK, only special firearms officers, who receive ongoing training, are armed with tazers, as a less-lethal alternative to guns.)

  31. For perspective, I find it helpful to mentally filter all instances of “PCSO” with “Dwight Schrute.”

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