This morning, Smith, an award-winning architectural and construction photographer, was taking photos of a church in the City of London. Next to the church was the Bank of America – Merrill Lynch building, from which a security guard emerged, Smith tells BJP.
‘He asked what I was doing, and I just told him that I was taking pictures and didn’t have to tell him anything at all,’ says Smith. At that point, a second security officer came up to Smith and asked for his personal details, which the photographer refused to provide, at which point the guards called the police
Three police cars and one vans arrived on the scene with up to six armed police officers detaining the photographer. ‘They were responding to an incident involving a male at reception who refused to leave, which was not true,’ Smith tells BJP.
‘I failed the [police] attitude test,’ he says. ‘I thought the pressure was off after last week’s events. I even showed one police officer the front page of The Independent, and he told that he had seen it but that “we can still stop you under Section 44”.’
To prevent being searched by the police officer, the photographer was forced to give his personal details. He received a stop and account form and was let go.
Smith is an Australian-born photographer, but he has been living in London since 1983 and ‘has an extensive knowledge of London’s architecture,’ his personal website says.
The incident comes days after the Association of Chief Police Officers sent a memo to all police forces around the country informing them that they ‘should not be stopping an searching people for taking photos.’ The memo continues: ‘There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.’
I do believe the photographer was wrong in this case – Not for taking the photos, but for not answering the security guards questions. Acting in stubborn manner (just because you know you are in the right) is not helping anyone. This situation could have been avoided by simply talking!
As for me, on Sunday, while I was photographing the Christmas lights in Leeds, I saw a Police van approaching and instinctively I put the camera in my bag, not because I was afraid or something, but I simply did not want to be involved in a similar situation.