Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Welcome to Doggie Policing

"Why do dogs lick themselves? Because they can."

When it comes to photography in public places, and stop-and-search generally, the police appear to be simply out of control.

For example, see this incredibly depressing news story.

The police seem to be able to do just want they want, and stop who they want.

And nothing, in turn, can stop them.

Why do they do this?

Because they can.

There is no realistic check on exercises of police power, or even sheer exercises of power with no actual basis in police law.

It is almost impossible to bring a civil action against the police; prosecutions are exceptional and rarely successful; the independent complaints regime has little if any credibility; and even public criticism will be met with the threat of a libel claim.

And so, without any practical limits, the police can just do what they want.

Welcome to Doggie Policing.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Obnoxio The Clown said...

Hear, hear!

JuliaM said...

Good post! This is indeed the truth. There needs to be serious consequences for this behaviour, not merely a fine.

Sackings are what is required.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

This problem has 'dogged' those exercising their freedom to take photograghs in public places for many years.

see for example:

I would suggest that anyone wishing to exercise this freedom in areas where the Met's 'rule of law' runs carries with them a copy of this page published by the Metropolitan Police.

It seems to be very clear to me even if not to the police.

Nick Gordon said...

Been a problem for a long time. Many officers simply do not know the law well enough, and believe that their uniform gives them complete rights (and that's before we get to CSOs). My favourite: I was stopped on the M1 just south of J21 because my car "had a Leicester registration number and was driving away from Leicester".

Dominic said...

The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Section 76) is available to any police officer who wants to prevent evidence of police malpractice being gathered.

No prosecution is necessary - to stop evidence being gathered the officer merely has to say he believes information is being recorded that might assist a terrorist, even if the information is not being gathered for that purpose.

There is some evidence that the current government is going to be more liberal than the previous one on Home Affairs, but I doubt any Home Secretary would be brave enough to repeal this Section and be subject to criticism for aiding terrorists and hampering police work.

There may be trouble ahead. The internet is a growing force in politics and it's no longer possible to conceal legislation like this behind the cloak of sympathetic mainstream media. Jack of Kent is proof of that.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

John Yates spells out the law here and has some interesting points to make about the more limited PCSO 'powers'.

Dominic said...

Thanks to Dr Brian Blood for the link to the Met Police page. Their advice is

"It would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests because there would not normally be grounds for suspecting that the photographs were being taken to provide assistance to a terrorist. An arrest would only be lawful if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."

But this is not what the law says. The offence is to "elicit information about ... a constable ... which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". No intent to assist a terrorist is required.

Counter-Terrorism Act 2008

LR said...

I think the problem with the wording in the guideline is that the arresting officer "had a reasonable suspicion". I have a many reasonable suspicions, it doesn't mean I have any evidence that's pretty much what a suspicion is...

I think the amateur photographer magazine are selling lens cloths with the guidlines for police written on them.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Dominic might find this 'clarification 'helpful.

which includes a Home Office Circular on the subject.

flay said...

It is because of this that I now carry around with me a pocket sized printout of the PACE code A. Kudos to this kid who made a recording of the incident. A public outcry could help turn the tide. Please do complain to the Met if you have not already.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 - PACE Code A (amended 1 January 2009)

Dominic Sayers said...

Another quick thank-you to Dr Brian Blood for the useful link to the Home Office circular. If police officers follow the advice given to them then abuse of this law should not take place out of ignorance. It doesn't prevent deliberate abuse of the law for the purposes of preventing the reporting of police malpractice.

I fully support giving police the powers they need to prevent terrorist murders such as we saw in the worst days of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Anybody covertly photographing police officers at their own homes is giving reasonable suspicion that they are up to no good. If we make it necessary to prove intent then prosecution could be more difficult. I understand and accept all this, bit I still don't agree that the current law is worded as well as it could be.

I note that there is a grand tradition in this country of using legislation for purposes for which it was not originally intended, cf. Income Tax, Stamp Duty, Licensing Laws, British Summer Time etc. etc. :-)

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Welcome to Robert K. Merton's 'law of unintended consequences'.

Wikipedia comments:

"Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world's inherent complexity (parts of a system responding to changes in the environment), perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception, failure to account for human nature or other cognitive or emotional biases"

As to which of these explains the behaviour of the police I must leave to wiser (or is it braver) commentators.

joninfrance said...

Reading the article and listening to the tape yesterday made me feel physically ill. I have almost no respect for the police any more. There are still good police, but they are in an institution which does not encourage their behaviour. Thank God they mostly still don't carry guns - and that I'm white and fit so unlikely to be shot by the Met for some reason. With the corrupt CPS lawyer too, a bad day for British justice.

Polonius said...

I'm slightly surprised that the victim was allowed to get away with his evidence intact, though I suspect the plod in question was shrewd enough to know that he stood a good chance of digging himself a deeper hole by trying to destroy it.

Matters are even worse up here in Scotland, as this deplorable case shows.

polonius said...

I'm slightly surprised that the victim was allowed to get away with his evidence intact, though I suspect the plod in question was shrewd enough to know that he stood a good chance of digging himself a deeper hole by trying to destroy it.

Matters are even worse up here in Scotland, as this deplorable case shows.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Having earlier denied myself the opportunity to decide which of the many possible causes (deriving from the law of unintended consequences) explains the well-documented behaviour of the police towards law-abiding photographers (and others of a similar artistic bent) I have reviewed further examples including


What is so odd is that this wave of film poliziesco features police officers happily ignoring clear and oft-repeated guidelines issued by the Home Office and by various senior police officers as they attempt to respond to justified public alarm.

A representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers has suggested that the law is straightforward.

"Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places," a spokeswoman said."

Why then can the 'bobby on the beat' or 'the man from the local police station' not properly understand what the law is?

Much has been written on what constitutes 'good policing'.

An excellent summary appears on the Civitas website entitled Principles of Good Policing which includes "a set of principles, which lay out in the clearest and most succinct terms the philosophy of policing by consent, appeared as an appendix to A New Study of Police History by Charles Reith (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1956)"

Improper behaviour by individual policeman (much of it evidenced on video) does nothing to encourage respect either for those officers or for the police service as a whole, representatives of which spout platitudes but fail clearly to get to the bottom of the problem.

Individual policemen involved in policing recent demonstrations were filmed with their identification numbers covered.

The Evening Standard reported that:

"The Home Office ... criticised officers who fail to wear their epaulettes, insisting the “public has a right to be able to identify” them."

"A Yard spokesman said: “Where provided, epaulettes with identifying letters and numerals or insignia of rank must be worn and must be correct and visible at all times."

"“It is the responsibility of all police officers, and their supervisors, to ensure this policy is followed.”"

Are we to assume then that supervision within the police service has broken down, that individual officers feel no compuction about ignoring guidelines issued by their superior officers, and that the law is there to be 'bent' as suits the officious, boorish, even malicious, motives of individual policemen or women?

Simon said...

I have complained about officers covering their numbers at protest events for at least 20 years. I haven't even been given the courtesy of a reply to any complaint. Plus ca change? No, the very illiberal, authoritarian and probably incompetent New Labour government came out with the Terrorism Act. Sadly the noises from the Coalition suggest some aspects of police record-keeping may be scrapped to reduce "unnecessary burocracy".

Its worth remembering that PACE was introduced because the police had the bad habit of fitting innocent people up.

As always, we need to be vigilant to prevent the loss of our hard-earned liberties.

Flay said...

Dr. Brian Blood, I think what we can assume is that the Met police force is badly managed and has poor internal communications. Why else would officers so clearly out of step with stated core values and codes of conduct act with such impunity. Where is the discipline? Even where payouts are settled I haven't heard of officers being suspended, let alone fired.

hairyears said...

The Police have the power to arrest you for anything, as there is no longer any concept of an 'arrestable offence' - and that change dates back (I think) to three or four years ago. It is unrelated to the Terrorism powers, and was welcomed (discreetly) as a valuable tool in the harrassment of the mentally-ill, the inconvenient, the indigent and the differently-coloured.

A valuable safeguard was lost that day, as there is no longer any meaningful concept of an unlawful or unjustified arrest: all arrests are lawful, as long as an offence - any offence! Even obscure ones from the 19th Century - is named and the proper procedure is followed.

Terence Eden said...

I had a similar experience last year -

In this case, not only did the police let me go without too much hassle, Surrey Police left comments on several blogs apologising. ( , )

Sadly, too many police seem to be under the apprehension that taking photos of them is illegal. I don't know whether its a "urban legend" among the police, or bad training. But it's bullying of the worst kind.

Flay said...

Terence, I've had some dealings with Surrey police both as a victim and as an accidental non-criminal offender. In my limited experience I have found them to be professional, courteous and helpful. I was even moved to donate money to their charity after the way they handled my motoring offense. It's possible that the Met are not of the same high standard or perhaps they feel that London incidents ought to be dealt with more suspiciously. They need shaping up.

Red Maria said...



I know freelance photojournalist, Jules Mattsson. His father Paul is good friend of mine and another really brilliant photojournalist.

Must give him a call.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

And another example of where the police seem reluctant to follow 'rules' from the top:

Roger E said...

Here's the link to the the lens cloth free with Amateur Photographer next month, as mentioned by JR:

I'll certainly be getting one to stick in my camera bag. I wonder what they'd make of my aerial photos of Dorset military camps, all incidental in shots of landscape taken when gliding, and little different to what is available on Google Earth. Now there's a thought: will they go after Google for Street View photos? Some of those could prove useful to terrorists.

saeed said...

Hi jack

I am a black male of 32 years of age.

I have a Fist class honours degree and a masters both from a Russell gruop unis...I do not have a criminal record and have a professional job

anyway i get stopped roughly twice a week and have had my car searched, pockets searched and grabbed so many times...i rarely get a stop/search number

i asked for a stop number once and the officer in question got angry with me and said that i had a bad attitude...(saying this while he raised his voice)

Black people and Asian people have long known the police to be out of order/control...its sad that many of the middle class whites who control this country are beginning to wake up to police abuse...this after the Lawrence affair and the secret policemen and we are only talking about police being out of control now?????

SadButMadLad said...

You don't want the met police letter with you. You want the form from This does not give the police any wriggle room like the met one does.

Nsowon said...

@saeed said...
Here here. As Caucasian Englishman, I can say I have only ever been stopped in my non-white friends cars while travelling through London. I travel in my car more than they ever do, as it's my job.
My sister-in-law and niece in Essex were dragged from their black b/f's car and arrested by three squad cars and officers because he looked like someone who had just been in a fight. He wasn't, but being black like the suspect was good enough. Of course, trying to claim his innocence and asking them not to pin his g/f and her daughter to the ground resulted in an overnght stay for all of them before all charges were dropped.
We all need to wake up.

Cardinal Fang said...

@saeed said...

I recommend carrying a copy of this card ( at all times. It basically ways that in the even of a stop and search being intrusive, unlawful or malicious, you will issue a complaint to Police Professional Standards Department. It also says that these complaints are investigated by fellow police officers you understand that it's unlikely to go anywhere, so you will also be issuing a complaint to the IPCC and might issue civil proceedings against the chief constable. Regardless of the outcome, you will have your time wasted for wasting mine.

I've been stopped a lot (I'm in that other favourite target group - protesters and activists), and I always say "before we start, can you read this so we are all reading off the same page". It's amazing how often it doesn't go any further.