Photographers harassed at stations while terrorists can work from home - Press Gazette

Photographers harassed at stations while terrorists can work from home

British Transport police have reminded press photographers about restrictions on taking photos at railway stations.

The force has warned them they are not allowed to take photographs of security equipment like CCTV cameras or use flash photography on platforms.

A spokesman said: ‘”You are allowed to take photographs on stations if it is for personal use.

“For any commercial photography, you must seek permission from the appropriate train operator or from Network Rail at the 17 major stations.

“You are not allowed to use flash photography on platforms as it may distract the attention of train drivers and train dispatch staff and is therefore a potential safety hazard.”

Similar rules apply to the London tube.

BTP’s regulations are curious, because any would-be terrorist can get far more detailed information about railway stations using Google Street View – or a new service introduced by Network Rail.

Today, I treated myself to a virtual tour of my local station, Chichester, and was able to look at the platform, the CCTV cameras, the level crossing, tracks and car parks, without leaving my desk.

If I was so disposed, I could have produced a full scale plan of the station and then used Google maps to plot a get-away.

So if I was a terrorist, why would I risk detection by visiting the site and taking photographs of it, when far more reliable information is available online?

Network Rail has made it even easier for the terrorists by working with Google to put 13 of Britain’s major stations on Street View.

Google put cameras on a luggage trolley and hauled it round the stations, taking shots to work into a 360 degree virtual tour.

Google said the project would enable passengers to check the layout and facilities of stations before they set off.

BTP were recently criticised for confiscating a 16-year-old girl’s camera and deleting images of a train leaving a station that she had taken for a school project.

And two years ago, a press photographer was threatened with arrest by two PCSOs, who have no powers of arrest, for taking pictures of three men dressed as babies for a town centre charity stunt.

The ‘problem’ was that Harrow-on-the-Hill Tube station was in the background, and this made clearly made their activity a possible terrorist threat.

The officers demanded to see pix he had already taken and said they had powers to delete any they didn’t like. He refused and walked away.

The divisional commander later backed his staff – even though the photograpoher was well known to the police as a local paper photographer and was not a terrorist.

Chartered Institute of Journalists vice president Charlie Harris wrote to the commander pointing out his error and enclosing a copy of the ACPO letter from Chief Constable Andy Trotter’s to coppers setting out the law.

He said: “This didn’t even elicit the courtesy of an acknowledgement, let alone a substantive reply.”

In 2009, then Conservative MP for Central Croydon, Andrew Pelling, was stopped by police for taking photographs of East Croydon station.

He produced his MP’s ID and told officers he was taking the photograph for use in parliament, but his bag was still searched.

A police spokesman said at the time: “The officer conducted a stop-and-search – taking into account the current terror threat – as he was taking pictures in the vicinity of a major transport hub.”

It does make me wonder why innocent photographers, including the press, are harassed by the police for photographing stations, when the real terrorists can reconnoitre potential targets from the privacy and comfort of their own homes?

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.