Despite repeated government and police assurances that it would not be happening any more, ordinary people are still being arrested for taking pictures in the UK, under the pernicious terms of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, and not just in London. This time, a photographer video camera user managed to film the process of his arrest. There particularly ridiculous aspects of this case are firstly that the officer, when challenged on his assertion that this was a terrorism-related offence, changed her charge to that of anti-social behaviour (which isn’t a crime as such, anyway), and secondly that the first officer was not even a proper police officer, but a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) AKA ‘plastic police’. PCSOs do not have the training or powers of the regular police but they are increasingly acting as if they do, and since they look almost identical to the untrained eye, they frequently get away with it. They shouldn’t: PCSOs need to be more clearly trained as to the legal and moral limitations of their role.
The second time he was stopped, it was by a police officer who had been informed by the PCSO, however the police officer too was unable to give reasons as to why they wanted the details of the photographer. They seemed to think that just because the officer was suspicious that was enough, whereas in law they must have a ‘reasonable’ suspicion. There were no such grounds. The officer refused to give reasonable grounds other than the fact they were taking pictures and refused to say whether they were being arrested. So they left, but they were later arrested by another officer for ‘anti-social behaviour’ (which is not a crime, and certainly taking pictures is not inherently ‘anti-social’ – or if it was, then the state’s CCTV systems would be equally ‘anti-social’). This seemed to have nothing more than a matter of the officers being annoyed by the fact that they challenged the officers. The police need to remember that they serve the public and are not there to tell the public what to do when they are doing nothing unlawful.