Nottinghamshire Police has issued guidance to its officers stating that they should not prevent the public from taking photographs of incidents after a journalist was stopped from doing so last week. (One of the photographs taken, above).
Freelance Mark Patterson has told how he complained to the force's Professional Standards Directorate after an officer – who later emerged to be a PCSO – told him to stop picturing the scene of a road collision with his phone.
Patterson said that a work experience reporter at the Nottingham Post was also prevented from taking photographs at the scene. According to Patterson, when he explained that he was a member of the press, the PCSO said: “I'm not telling you again – I don't care who you are.”
The freelance then wrote to the force to complain about the events of 23 March in the West Bridgford area. He said: “I would like to point out that in the case I am complaining about all the spectators were standing outside the police tape. There was no blood to be seen from where we were. I could not even see the number plates of the cars involved. There was no 'ghoulish interest.' I took three pictures because I live close to the accident scene and regard recording the accident as being in the public interest. Yet at no point did the police officer ask me who I was or why I should want to take pictures. Or anybody else, for that matter.
“My complaint is therefore that one of your officers has wrongly and arbitrarily abused her authority by preventing members of the public from taking photographs of an accident in a public place and for reasons of public interest.”
Patterson was phoned and told that the woman who had been dealing with him was a PCSO. He was also told that the following advice would be circulated throughout the force:
Please be reminded that the Police do not have the power to stop members of the public from taking photographs of incidents we are in attendance at or the officers themselves.
Whilst at times we may think that the taking of the images is not suitable due to the circumstances we still have no powers to tell the public to stop.
This does not prevent you from speaking with the persons concerned and asking them to stop with a reasoned explanation, which hopefully will be understood.
If members of the public are interfering with the scene management or the incident itself, by any means, please remember we can extend the cordon or consider the use of Obstructing a constable in the execution of their duty. Obviously any arrest would be as a last resort and only if all elements of the offence were made out.
If we believe that the taking of images/film is related to terrorism then we do hold a power under Section 43 Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search that person. This allows the Police to search that person for anything in their possession which may constitute evidence of an offence under the Terrorism Act including recording equipment that has been used for reconnaissance.
This also allows the police to view images taken but NOT to delete any.
Donna Jordan, Nottinghamshire Police’s Media Services Manager, said: “We have been liaising with the National Union of Journalists to refresh guidance, in conjunction with national best practice, for officers and staff working for the police, particularly when it comes to dealing with journalists and people taking photographs in public spaces.
"We also carry out media training with our officers and staff to encourage a good working relationship between the force and the media, and are keen that this continues.
"We apologise on this occasion for any inconvenience caused to the freelance journalist.”