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)”
ME: “GREY HAIR!”
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.