Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Back in April 2007 I witnessed two trainspotters being roughly treated by police as they tried to take a photo of a Victorian manufacturer's plate on a bridge. I thought at the time this was a bit of overzealous silliness that would calm down. Some time later, a colleague and his wife, eminently respectable middle class professionals, were harshly prevented from taking a piccy of their daughter departing on her gap year from a London mainline station.
Today the papers report that Tory MP Andrew Pelling was stopped and searched under terrorist legislation for taking a photograph near East Croydon station.
A parliamentary question by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker has revealed that about 160,000 people have been stopped and searched on railway property in the year to September 2008, many of them, one assumes, for attempting to snap an innocent photograph.
Because each incident happened at a busy station, it will have been witnessed by many more people. Even if ten or twenty people see the police acting harshly and unreasonably, that's millions of people each year that will become further disillusioned with the state of policing in the UK.
For a start, the policy is pointless. Every station platform and concourse is filled with people holding mobiles, most of which can now take photographs without it being obvious. Ironically, the photo above is of the big screen at Charing Cross station exhorting mobile users to 'Shoot it'. To leap only on people with cameras is quite pointless. Secondly, the web is filled with photographs of stations and railway property; these are public places and have been ever since they were built. Thirdly, real terrorists are quite capable of carrying out a recce and sketching up layouts without obviously taking photographs openly with a camera. Whilst dressed in a purple anorak with a thermos flask.
Since the policy is so obviously pointless, the only conclusion I can reach is that it's being pursued as a very public display of police authority from which none of is immune. And that the authors of the policy are quite conscious that they're further driving a wedge between the police and the law-abiding public.