Account for presence

March 18, 2008 at 8:59 pm

uk photographers rights violated account for presence

Yesterday a good friend and I met for coffee in Leeds city centre, I had sold him my Olympus 35RC and was collecting the money from him. Whilst we were drinking our coffee he asked if I would take part in a little photographic experimentation – namely holding a radio triggered flash whilst he shot some street. I agreed on the express condition that should I get smacked I could stomp on his flash.

So, we found a nice spot where I could sit and direct the flash at passers by and he could shoot from the opposite angle, he quite openly took a number of shots of people, most smiled, a few asked what he was doing and after a brief conversation wished him good luck.

After a short while we decided to try some shots whilst on the move – a street food vendor caught his eye and we got into position, he took 2 shots, and all hell broke loose! First of all the vendor started to spout about how it was illegal to take photos of him, my friend said he was happy to have a conversation with him about it, but the vendor was having none of it. A young mother at the front of the queue had simultaneously started up, shouting “oi what are you doing, that’s illegal”, she was under the impression that my friend was taking photos of her children (they did not appear in frame) and that a law had been passed in the UK prohibiting this (not so). Well, my friend decided that since it was only experimentation he would forgo the shot and showed her his DSLR screen whilst he was deleting the photos.

Apparently this was not good enough and the woman beckoned over two Police Community Support Officers (PCSO’s – cheap quasi police with no rights to arrest), who immediately decided to play good cop/bad cop.

The essence of the conversation follows:

PCSO1: “Why are you here, What are you doing, Who are you with?”

FRIEND: “I’m an amateur photographer and am interested in street photography, we’re just experimenting with flash lighting in the street”

PCSO1: “Who are you taking the pictures for?”

FRIEND: “Myself, it’s my hobby”

PCSO1: “You’ll have to delete them”

FRIEND: “Well I don’t have to, but I already did, I showed the woman that I had”

PCSO1: “Show me your camera so I can check”

FRIEND: “I don’t legally have to do that and I already explained that I showed the lady I had deleted them”

PCSO1: “In that case I’m issuing you with a stop and search”

ME: “On what legal grounds”

PCSO2: “Section 1 of PACE” – Section 1 of PACE pertains to searching those suspected of committing a crime for stolen or prohibited articles.

FRIEND: “I don’t understand why you should do that I’m perfectly within my rights to not allow you to search me”

PCSO1: “Well, I could detain you for 20 minutes and have you taken to the station for a proper search”

FRIEND: “Look, here I’ll show you, there’s no point in this getting out of hand, but I am correct about my rights, here see this – produces leaflet covering photographers rights”

PCSO1: “(dismisses leaflet)What you’ve been doing could be seen as anti social behaviour, you’ve got to be really careful taking photos in a public place, buildings and stuff are ok, but not people”

ME: “Can we have a copy of the forms please”

PCSO2: “(gives copies)”


We could have been much more pushy about our rights, but I had to get back to work, and didn’t want to have to phone to explain I’d been arrested because although we had maybe been a bit rude, the police did not know the law.

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  • H.Mansfield

    A PCSO cannot perform a stop and search unless s/he is supervised by an actual police officer. This is stated on the PCSO’s own website.

    The only time they can do a stop and search is under the Terrorism act, so unless they clearly state that you’re suspected of being a terrorist, they cannot perform the stop and search.

  • Gordon I

    To lodge additional support go to

    and digitally sign the petition to number 10.

  • Gordon I

    I have got the “It’s illesgall to take pictures of people without first asking for written permisson line” several times now from members of the public!

    If I am in a polite mood my response is usually, “Look I’ve been doing this for over thiryt years now, so I think I would know if it was illegal or not.” If I am in a less charitable mood, I scornful look, and a “Piss off, can’t you see I’m working.” is always good for a laugh. Not that I try that with a police officer though.

    With a police officer, or PCSO I will politiely point out that as I have been semi-pro for thirty years on and off, I have taken great care to make sure I understand the laws which might affect my right to take photographs in a public (or private) place, and try to avoid any situation which might be interprested as an infringement of the law, and that in this paricular instance I am not aware that I am doing anything wrong, and could they please explain exactly what their supicions are. Of course I will explain that I understand that while not actually illegal to do so I do understand that some individuals simply do not like their picure being taken, and should a person indicate this to me, or I even supect they may object, I do not photograph them, as I have no wish to offend. After all if I want to sell the image for profit, I would have to obtain a release from them anyway either befre or after the picure was taken, so there would be little point in continuing.

    This usually disarms the situation. If however they wish to part me from any of my kit, or confiscate any materials, I will inform them that they may do so only if they place me under arrest and formally charge me with an offence at the station. (This will of course give me immediate access to a lawyer, and I would press for wrongfull arrest.)

    I would though recommend that everyone excercise a degree of sensible caution, as there are a number of stupid dicks out there who seem to be convinced that anything they do in public, is somehow private, and get very ansty about it. All I can say is that they should try having sex in public and see how long they remain at liberty!

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  • Scott

    Fun stuff man. I await the day I get arrested for jumping on a wall. A few weeks back in Sheffield a guy got shouted at by two police for climbing in a tree. His response was “No I’m not getting down, have you heard what you’re actually asking me to do? Stop doing something man has done since …” “Get down before I arrest you!” One of the police interrupted him. My friend was stubborn though and refused to get down unless they arrest him. The police then walked off making a comment about not coming to help if anything went wrong to try and save face.

    The amount of times I have been in similar situations is not nearly funny. Every time I have a huge urge to stick to my rights and attempt to carry on but as of yet I haven’t decided it worth the possible hassle. I remember one day in Wakefield I (and a few others) got our details checked 3 times, and our bags searched also later in the day but there was a break in nearby so I guess that is excusable. Each time we give our details it takes almost 5 minutes each, and so on this particular day we spent over an hour dealing with police. Fun times.

    I find PCSOs treat us differently to the actual police but both can be just as bad. Police seem to have to assert their power if we don’t take their presence like we are actually offenders, usually with threats of arrest. Then PCSOs are like many have said, clueless, power hungry silly billies that lack power.

    Seriously man if you think you photographers have problems, you should try doing something out of the ordinary, people just freak! I have been questioned/harassed by the police about having no top on, no shoes on, not crossing at the lights, vaulting a rail, doing pressups, doing handstands, walking along walls when there’s a “perfectly good path” next to them, standing on walls, stretching in a “public” place, climbing on trees, etc. The list is starting to become endless.


  • BennehBoy

    I’ve amended the conversation so it more clearly reflects the fact that it WAS NOT ME doing the shooting, I was simply helping out a friend – hopefully this might clear up some of the chinese whisper like reporting of this incident.

  • ssam

    You might want to sign this petition

  • BennehBoy

    Thanks for the link mate.

  • stpiduko

    getting stopped by the police is not so bad

    they give you free coffee and a place to sit

  • Chris Hills


    I took pictures of armed police at a siege (VERY MINOR incident suspect “possibley” armed with a knife in girlfriends house. all ended happily) I was chating to the police on the cordon and took pictures of armed poilce. I was approached by one of the armed police and asked not to take pictures that clearly showed their faces as they sometimes did under cover work. That was all. The pictures made the local (Tamworth) and two regional( Brimingham) papers with no problems. This was August 2007. So no problem photographing the armed Police then.

    Incidentally the CSO that were there had no idea what they or the Police were doing and were a positive embarrisment. At one point they were told to go away because there were more hinderance than help.

    What I cant work out is why if we have the Specials why we need the SCO.

    A couple of months later got a nice picture of two policemen out side a closed down shop (“Men on Top” male grroming and life style. Lovly pose.They also thought it funny and there was no problem. It won a picutre of the month at calument september/october ish 2007. It was during the march past of the Mercian Regiment in the town. Lots of people photograhinc everything that moved (and everything that did not)

    So photographing the police (even the armed police) in the UK is NOT a problem. Unless the UK law has changed in the last 6 months.

    The only time I was asked to delete photographs was a couple of years ago I was taking pictures in Brussels of some facintaing art deco buildings and a very pretty policewoman with a big gun started hanging about. So I snapped a few more picutrs including some with here in. She was joined by another couple of armed officers who asked me to delete all the photos with them in it and some of a bland concrete builting that was in a coule of pictures…. The reason became clear 5 minutes later when he two military armourd cars (with machine guns on) and a couple of money/cash type armourd cars came up the road and in the unintesting concrete building aross the road. Apparenty the Treasuray/Bank of Belgium building…. The police did not want to be identifed nor have pictures of the convoy arriving for all the normal security reasons. Which seem reasonable to me. In that case their neck would be on the line. However as pointed out here simply deleting the picutres would mean I could recover them later which I didn’t.

    However in the UK if filming continue to do so when asked to stop. Simpley because if it IS an offence it is the evidence the poilce (and you ) need for court. this is whey all interviews are now taped. They can not object to you fimling their interview (and your arrest) It is a myth on their part.

    If there is no crime you can film. If there is a crime then they need the evidence. On one hand there is no requirement to deleate and and on the other a requirement to preserve evidence.

  • Hugo

    “Grounds for search: Grey hair”, that’s hilarious!

    Even if having grey hair were grounds for search, the PCSO can’t even fill in a form properly: that was in the “Police officers only” section, and they didn’t tick the “S.1 PACE” despite claiming it as legal grounds for stopping and searching. The PCSO only ticked the “Stop” box, and not the “Stop and Search” also crossed out the “PCSOs only” section. Finally, they ignored the very first instruction on the form: “Please complete ALL sections in BLOCK CAPITALS”!

    Clearly they didn’t know what they were doing. I hope you’ve issued a written complaint to the police.

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  • BennehBoy
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  • Tim

    Note the top of the form – complete all sections in BLOCK CAPITALS – duh :-)

  • tugwilson


    You can get a photography permit for Canary Wharf by contacting the Press Office. is very helpful

    They will fax you a permit

  • BennehBoy

    I’m afraid it wasn’t me Silas, I’m one of the poor fools that has to brave the M62.

  • Silas Dominey

    Bizarre, I think I might have seen you on the Burley Park train the other day. I remember clocking your camera, I had mine around my neck, and doing the weird little “check-out-the-other-persons-gear” thing that photographers do.

    I could be wrong, though, I just clicked onto here from Conscientious. Small world, blah blah blah…

    Back on subject, a security guard once told me I couldn’t take pictures in Leeds Station because I might get electrocuted through my (plastic, Jessops) tripod.

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  • BennehBoy

    The Met have issued a statement regarding there recent anti terror campaign, see AP’s coverage HERE.

  • Toby

    Try taking pictures in the City of London and Canary Wharf! I was told by several security guards, who were keen to rush out and tell me, that I could not take photographs of the outside of buildings. A policeman agreed that they were right because it is private land. One security guard finally told me that it was possible to get a permit to photograph on the street if I provided evidence of who I am. Another police officer told me that I could not take photographs in train stations.

  • Alastair Thompson

    A very similar thing happened to me on the same street in Leeds, yesterday.

    Rather than retype all the details I’ll cut and paste from my account of it on flickr. You can see the original somewhere on this page

    Hey Ben, I’ve got “Grey Hair” too!

    At least I have on the Stop and Search form that I’m the proud new owner of.

    I was sitting on a bench in Briggate this lunchtime, trying to take shots of passers by laughing, for the tricky TOTW that some idiot’s set.

    After about twenty minutes two women PCSO’s appeared from behind me and asked me what I was doing. “Taking pictures.” I said. “What of?”, one of them asked, and I replied “People”.

    A long and tedious conversation followed, the highlights of which included them claiming that I’d been “spotted taking pictures of girls, and that someone had complained”. Also that I’d been “seen on camera”! The irony! They said that some people didn’t like their “bodies” being photographed, to which I replied it was hard taking pictures of people without including any of their body. “Certain parts of their body.” one of them said. The other one pointed out that I wouldn’t like it if someone took pictures of my children, and I answered by saying that, if they were on Briggate they would probably be fully dressed, and I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest.

    I’m not sure if they thought I was taking pictures of kids, or looking for “up-skirt” photos, perhaps because I was sitting down and trying to shoot covertly from the waist. The clear implication was that I was a pervert.

    They wanted to see the pictures, and at first I refused, which naturally didn’t help. Talk of getting “proper” police started, so I relented and agreed to show them a couple of shots.

    Up to this point I’d been fairly unhelpful, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I decided to try a new tactic and gave them my card, told them I was a professional photographer, who specialised in street photography, and that, as such, I knew exactly what the law was on photography in public places. They had heard of “street photography”, and confessed that they didn’t know the law on the subject. Luckily they didn’t ask how it was possible to actually make money as a street photographer, because then I’d have been stumped.

    I got one of them to sit down next to me (I stayed seated through the whole “encounter”) and showed her the last 3 shots, which were so badly exposed and blurry that she could hardly see anything, but I explained that I was on an assignment to shoot pictures of people “laughing” (didn’t say why!), and that all the blurry people in the pictures had been laughing when I’d taken them. Seeing there were no kids or up-skirt action shots, she seemed relatively happy, and we moved on to the next stage.

    Which was to wait while I was “checked on the System”. A bit of radio chat took place and luckily I was “cleared”. Phew.

    Then they had to fill in the “Stop/Stop and Search” form, at which point I became slightly more obstructive again. I refused to give my date of birth, and there was more talk of “proper” police being summoned. “Is it compulsory?” I asked. “Yes”, the form-filler said, so I gave it. Next came my address – again I asked if that was compulsory, and again she said “Yes”. I wasn’t happy at any of that, and, having read the advice on about “Stop encounters”, am even less so now. Apparently you don’t have to give either your date of birth or address.

    With the form-filling over, I was free to go. One of them gave me some advice that, if I wanted to take pictures on a busy street like Briggate, I should do it “more openly”, i.e. less suspiciously. Earlier I’d told them that the whole point of candid photography was to be covert, but by that time I just wanted rid of them, so I left it at that.

    I cheekily asked if I could take their pictures, but sadly they both declined, so we went our separate ways.

    Probably the most annoying thing about the whole event was the fact that, for the twenty minutes or so that the “encounter” lasted, everyone on Briggate will have assumed that I was a criminal.

    Also I’m presumably now in The System.

  • BobC

    We got stopped last June in Leeds Station and told to delete all photos by a group of PCSOs under the anti terrorist laws. I couldn’t believe it but the choice was to do that or have camera kit confiscated. I haven’t got grey hair but I am bald – does that count?

  • Andy

    Haha! He’ll definitely get stopped, he has grey hair AND a grey face! :)

  • BennehBoy
  • BennehBoy

    @SteveFE, I’m in two minds really, I think that PCSO’s probably do have a net positive effect in society, but that sometimes they get caught out where they hit matters that are at the fringe of their training. It doesn’t help that there is no real clear legal recourse in these matters.

    @RandHobart, yeah it’s disturbing that officers quote actions are offences without knowing under what law or section, at least they called in when challenged – but what would’ve happened had they not been challenged?

    @Paul, maybe, I don’t know – but I shouldn’t have to qualify myself when I’m not actually breaking any laws. Thanks for the support though bud, feels strange to be called (ok, inferred) an Artist without the word piss also appearing in the sentence.

  • Paul Russell

    “I’m an amateur photographer and am interested in street photography”

    Maybe the “I’m an artist whose work has featured in the Tate and I’m taking some photographs” approach would be better. Or maybe not!

  • RandHobart

    It’s not just the spastic plastic plods that don’t know the law (, alleged real filth are up their own arses with it too (…

  • SteveFE

    Haha. Fucking monkeys. It’s a shame they do get away with this sort of crap because if you’d have consented to be arrested and then got a brief, they’d have kicked those PCSO’s arses so hard and brought a harassment case down on them. That form is a joke—no grounds for detainment given? It’d get laughed out of court if it ever got that far.

    Good on you for sticking up for yourselves as far as you did.

  • Greg Pederson

    @Ben really, guys out and about taking pictures in plain view of the public are engaging in pedophilia at the same time?…sarcasm.
    And I think you are right about deflating the situation rather than inflaming it…at the end of the day you and the PCSO know exactly what power he/she has….sounds like it’s akin to the power a bouncer at a night club has.

    In any event damn the man! :)

  • BennehBoy

    @mark, yeah yeah don’t rub it in, I’ve started my get fit for summer regime OK!

    @Mark U, they tend to stick together and in my opinion it’s best to deflate than inflame these things.

    @Andy, very droll.

  • Andy

    Maybe they are on commission from Just For Men. Who knows? :)

  • Mark U

    Personally I’d have dialed 999 on my mobile and advised the police to send someone out because I was being assulted with doing nothing wrong.

    A picture is NEVER deleted from the card unless it is formatted. So those pictures will still be there. Sadly the PCSO is not tech savy and will not understand this.

  • mark

    you’re a bloody trouble maker, if ever I saw one… I’d have locked you up and slapped and ASBO on you. Grey hair is a fair description, it could have been, ‘scruffy git, needs to join a gym’ ;)

  • BennehBoy

    @Linda, thanks for the link, I feel quite honored to have you posting here, and the leaflet you contributed toward is extremely useful.

    @MP, Shh, don’t tell everyone!

  • MP

    Officials asking for photographs to be deleted from digital cameras. Whats the point: once you get home its a five minute job to recover them from the card.

    I suppose it’s a win/win – you get to keep the photos (after a slight inconvenience) and the complaining public sleep safe; thinking that the action of deleting a photo will instantly stop any future pedophile/terrorist/voodoo soul stealing activities you crazy weird camera people get up too.

    Another example of pointless policy based on FUD.

  • Linda Macpherson

    You might find this of interest, since it sets out the powers of PCSOs:

    Oddly enough, “grey hair” is not grounds for a stop and search. PSCOs, as far as I am aware, do not have powers of stop and search under s.1 of PACE, only limited powers of stop and search under the Terrorism Act, and then only when accompanied by a police constable.

    You don’t have to go to the police station to make a complaint about the conduct of police staff. You can write or else make a complaint through e-mail or online at:

  • BennehBoy

    @Greg, no it isn’t illegal to take photos, but the certain elements in the government are trying hard to make it that way (or so it seems). The press haven’t helped with all the fever pitched paedophilia labelling of photographers either.

    @Dave W, I hear you mate, but I just don’t have the time or energy to go there, that’s why I’m encouraging everyone to write to their MP’s on this issue – I have.

    @Tim, that was how I was described on the form…. (in the grounds for search section which I found quite amusing)

  • Tim


    But expected.

    What’s the significance of the “GREY HAIR” comment Ben?

  • Dave Wild

    It’s a little different a tad further south. Down here we haven’t seen any policemen on patrol since childhood, so encounters are rare.

    I would be tempted to go to a police station and complain though. Even if you don’t think you’ll get anywhere, they have to take it seriously and investigate which is a right pain – I’ve seen it on The Bill! ;)

  • Greg Pederson

    I don’t get it, it’s illegal to photo people in public in England? Why is that? Is it related to upskirt type of shenanigans?
    And it’s funny your PCSOs sound just like regular American cops :) Here they know the law, but also know they can really mess with regular joes by threatening detainment, arrest, etc. I really love cops, I think we should get more of them :P

  • BennehBoy

    Ironically I wrote to my MP about the erosion of photographers rights in the UK just this last Saturday.

  • Jay M

    I’d be on to Millgarth straight away – PCSOs are jumped up fucking social workers with absolutely no clue about the law. IMHO they’re eroding any respect the ‘real’ Police have left with misguided and ill judged assumptions about their authority. Doing more harm than good in the community.