Police are under strict orders to stop using anti-terror legislation to question and search innocent photographers, after senior officers admitted widespread misuse of the controversial laws.
An email to senior police throughout England and Wales from the Association of Chief Police Officers last night advised that section 44 powers should not be used on photographers without good reason.
The email read: ‘Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.’
Growing criticism from tourists and media photographers led to the decision.
Chief Constable Andy Trotter from the ACPO said in The Independent: ‘There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.
‘We need to make sure that our officers and Police Community Support Officers [PCSOs] are not unnecessarily targeting photographers. The last thing in the world we want to do is give photographers a hard time or alienate the public.
‘Photographers should be left alone to get on with what they are doing. If an officer is suspicious of them for some reason they can just go up to them and have a chat with them – use old-fashioned policing skills to be frank.’
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gives police power to stop and search anyone in a designated area without need for suspicion. Locations where such behaviour is permitted are believed to include major landmarks, tourist attractions and every train station in Britain.
Photographers, both professional and amateur, have increasingly reported police wrongly stopping them from taking photos in such places.
Met officers, who are said to be among the worst offenders, have been given training and had the laws explained.
Almost 100 complaints about Section 44 laws have been made to the police watchdog in the past 18 months. Eight made specific mention of photography.
Police Federation chairman Simon Reed welcomed the news on behalf of his 140,000 officers.
‘I think some new guidance will be welcome,’ he said.