A Frightening Snapshot of British Policing

I was out taking photos in Leeds the other day when I attracted the attentions of a couple of Police Community Support Officers. They were courteous and merely asked me what I was doing (and yes I did think of the obvious answer to this, but fortunately insufficient beer had been consumed to enable my sarcasm muscle to flex). For all I know they might just have been interested in photography or were wanting to chat to the community they serve.

However, recent developments have led to a real sense of cynicism about intentions. The introduction of Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism act 2008 lends itself to the potential arrest of photographers (be they journalists or not) and the National Union of Journalists are among those expressing concerns.

Others have been less pessimistic citing the likelihood of a difficulty in enforcing this. This makes sense but history shows us that the police are not averse to using any legislation - even the arcane - to police protests, as the miners found out in the 1980s. Whilst arrests often do not lead to charges let alone convictions, the provisions serve their purpose.

The case of Ian Tomlinson shows the value of the citizen photographer and journalist. The traditional media is only now reporting the seriousness of the situation several days after the blogosphere had highlighted the issue. Obviously it has not learnt lessons from Hillsborough and Jean Charles de Menezes that it has a duty not to act as a receptacle for the P.R. department of the police. Another knee-jerk press release has been shown to be flawed.

One disturbing aspect that this raises is the continued reliance of the police on accusations of alcohol consumption. Once a PC smells drink, this becomes another weapon to use.

Without the video sent to The Guardian, would Paul Stephenson have been forced to issue a statement talking about 'obvious concerns'? We don't know what actually killed this man but we do know we need to keep watching and recording.

UPDATE: Bloggerheads reports on Indymedia covering this matter with allegations at the Climate Camp of protestors being told to delete photos. Perhaps the best solution - short of an immediate Human Rights application - is to delete the photos but not tell the old Bill that it does not actually permanently destroy the data on the card. Just use recovery software. Simples!