On Sat 17th Oct at approximately 17:30, I am proceeding in a Northerly direction down Ealing Broadway (to be honest I don’t know which direction I am proceeding in but I am proceeding towards Sainsbury’s if that helps). I have just taken three photographs. One of what looks to me like a caricatured face in a Paving Stone (1) One of a Jesus-like face in a tree, (2) and one of some white dog poo,(3) which you don’t see very often these days.There has been much debate on this recently, my favourite theory being that white dog poo is done by poodles which are no longer a common dog to have as a pet. Brilliant. Then I stop outside Ealing Police Station.The Station sign is one of those old fashioned Blue Lamp ones. It’s about 10 yards from the entrance and I wonder whether I should risk taking a photo. There are several Old Bill coming and going and I think, I’ll probably get told off immediately but that won’t be the end of the world so I go ahead and take a few shots. I stand with my back to the Station, looking up at the sign. It should be pretty obvious to anyone watching what I’m doing. A police van rolls slowly out of the Station car park. I glance in the windows expecting a head shake or a shoo away but no one seems to be paying any attention to me. So I take a couple more pics. They look pretty ropey though and I think, oh well, pity, I shan’t be showing them. I then turn to carry on, I mean proceed back down the Broadway.
At this point, two police officers, one male, one female, step out of the van, which I hadn’t noticed had parked outside the station, and stop me in my tracks. The male officer says that they have observed me taking photographs of the station.No shit Sherlock, I think. No way, Maigret. I wasn’t exactly trying to hide it was I? Can you tell us what you were taking them for? he asks, all narrow eyed and onerous. I say that I am a local resident, interested in photography and I thought the old fashioned sign might make a good photo. I bring up the the pictures on my phone and show him, scrolling through. He doesn’t take much notice, instead he asks for my name, address and some form of ID. I give him the info and hand over my bus pass. Whilst he checks me out I turn to the female officer and show her a couple of the photos She gives them the once over but says nothing. The male officer hands my pass back and writes something in his notebook. I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable. There’s nothing amicable about this exchange. I repeat, It’s just the sign, not the station itself. The male officer gives me full plod evils and says portentiously in a flat intimidating monotone, I suggest you delete them.
I wait for an explanation as to why I should do that but he lets it hang in the air. He’s done. Have I committed a crime? I ask. Am I under arrest? No reply. I repeat. Have I committed a crime? Because if not, why should I delete them? I’m expecting one of them to say – You are not allowed to take unauthorised photos blah blah..but then the female officer says to her colleague, Actually, you can see they mainly show the office across the road. I feel a sudden flush and a rush of indignation. This guy’s attitude is not on. I suggest you delete them? What does he mean by that? Delete them or else what,exactly? No, this is not on. Not on at all. What am I, a naughty ten year old? I want to discuss this at the station, I say. I’m not happy with this situation. I don’t like being stopped in the street and told in a threatening tone, to delete my photos. They look at me blankly, not expecting this burst of ire. Come on I say, I want to make an official complaint. They look somewhat taken aback at that. I walk ahead and look over my shoulder, beckoning for them to follow. Come on, I say, lets go. Now they look a a bit mortified. I daresay this is the first time they have ever had a member of the public ask them to accompany him to the Station.We walk the few steps into the Station where the male officer tries to maintain some semblance of authority. Wait in there he says, pointing to a cubicle. But his words carry no weight as it’s me that’s instigating matters. A few minutes later a young male PC comes out. He’s heard the officer’s side of the story and wants to know mine.So I tell him.He starts on about how they have every right to stop me.blah blah…Yes I’m not bothered about that, I say. I don’t mind being questioned. But then you should either detain someone, or send them on their way. You should not be making nasty little threatening remarks about ‘suggesting’ they delete photos.It’s intimidating, bullying and sounds a bit sinister. I live around here and i’m going to be taking photos in the street regularly for the forseeable future. I want this nipping in the bud.Otherwise a dangerous precedent is set whereby I am made to feel nervous for no reason on my own doorstep.That’s crap policing, not acceptable.The PC concurs saying that as Community Support Officers, they are not as experienced in dealing with these situations as fully trained officers. I’ll talk to them about it. So you want me to just walk away and let them off? I ask. Well I won’t. I’m not happy and I want to complain. Look, he sighs, A full formal complaint will take a lot of time and could have implications for their career. The two Community plod are standing behind him looking like they wished they’d never set eyes on me. The tide has turned. But I can be arsey when I want to be, very arsey indeed.You may have noticed. Why should I let it go? I push on, launching into a diatribe about civil liberties. I’m on my high horse now, warming to my subject. Local resident blah blah, cooperated fully..blah blah…tried to intimidate me just because he has a uniform on and I AM NOT HAVING IT! The PC sighs again. How about, he says, I ask the Sergeant, who’s at another station just now, to speak to the officers and he’ll call you back. I bang on a bit more, umming and aahing but agree saying that once I’ve spoken to the Sergeant, I’ll decide then if I want to take matters further.. I mention that I do a photoblog and will be talking about this in it. He says I shouldn’t let one incident colour my opinion of the whole police force. Mmm. I leave.
19:30 approximately: My phone rings. It’s the Sergeant. He’s spoken to the officers. The male officer says he thought he was doing the right thing. But Sarge has told them that in a situation like that, if they do not suspect criminal behaviour or intent and they do not intend to detain or arrest, and if the images are similar to those available on say, Google, or in other easily accessible public documents then there is no reason why they should not remain the property of the photographer. So I was in the right and they were in the wrong? On this ococasion, yes, he says. I say that I am satisfied with that. I will take no further action. I mention to him about a similar problem I had with a security guard in a Shopping Mall recently. He says that it’s complicated, that they all have different rules.He advises that one can contact the shopping mall management and ask to see their written policy on photography. And that’s that. I win. Power to the peep-hole. For now.
I look again at the non-offending articles (4 -7) and decide, considering the taking of them caused so much grief, that this time, quality control can take a back seat. Or get in the back of the van, even.. I mean, I might as well show what all that fuss was about mightn’t I? It was about four photos of a blue sign that, let’s face it, aren’t really much cop…
Back outside I proceed in an orderly fashion in..erm a Southerly direction? (Easterly,Westerly? I dunno). I haven’t gone far when my phone rings and it’s the Sergeant. He gives it some about the complicated laws and grey area surrounding photographing sensitive buildings. I interrupt and cut to the quick. Yeah yeah.I know all that, the point is, where do they get off telling me to delete photos if they do not suspect criminal activity? It’s unacceptable. He agrees, yes it doesn’t seem right. He says he will speak to the officers and get back to me. We chat a little about the importance of using discretion.I pass a man taking photos of some scaffolding that I’d snapped the other day and then, would you believe?, I see the two officers themselves, standing at a bus stop. Oh, delicious irony. I march past them,staring them out and raising my voice as I go – So, as I said SERGEANT, it was..a DREADFUL EXAMPLE OF COMMUNITY POLICING, I bark…USING A VEILED THREAT LIKE THAT…They look through me, avoiding confrontation, as per their training, no doubt. They should have tried that earlier. I hang up the call, pick up my boy from swimming and proceed home.