Photography (Public Places)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge 11:00 am, 1st April 2009

I am grateful for the opportunity, given by Mr. Speaker, to raise this important issue. This is the first time that I have seen you in the Chair in this Chamber, Mr. Bercow, and it is a great but slightly overdue honour to sit under your chairmanship. I see that the Minister is now in his place.

For me, this is a difficult subject in many respects, because I have sympathy with both sides of the argument, as I shall discuss, but first, let me give the Minister some background. As a student, I spent a lot of time in eastern Europe, where much photography anywhere near anything considered strategic was not only frowned upon, but policed rigorously. I am also a keen birdwatcher, as some hon. Members will know, so I am not unaware of the problems of going into sensitive areas armed with optical equipment of various sorts.

Some important issues have come to the fore lately, and there are three main threads that I want to address, the first of which is the taking of photographs in public places by amateurs, which initially drew the matter to my attention. Many of the arguments that I shall make on that point, and many of those against it, have been changed by the recent advent of Google Street View, which is the second issue. I hope that I have enough time to address the final issue, which is the journalistic angle on taking photographs in public places.

Let me now discuss amateur photographers going out and about in our public places and taking photographs. Many colleagues have come to me since I secured the debate to tell me about incidents similar to the one I shall describe, and I have several examples from my constituency. Last summer, a well-known local business man, Mr. Alberto Wusche, who has a thriving business on Windsor street in Uxbridge, took photographs of properties that he thought were in bad repair, which he wanted to pass on to the council. He had not noticed, but in front of one of those buildings was a police car containing police community support officers, who had parked on a double yellow line as they popped into a sandwich bar to get a no-doubt well-earned sandwich. It appears that they thought the photograph was going to be used in evidence against them for parking on a double yellow line.

Parking in Windsor street has always been a hot issue and has perplexed me for many a year while I have been here. One of the PCSOs went over to Mr. Wusche—he probably will not mind me telling the Chamber that he is in his 70s and has been a model citizen all his life, having fled fascist Italy—and told him that he must immediately delete the photographs. When Mr. Wusche asked why, he was handed a notice and pretty much cautioned. That upset him a great deal, and I understand why.

Another incident involved Mr. Lee, who has just come out of the RAF. He was stopped taking photographs outside the Chimes shopping centre by another PCSO, who ran a police check over the radio and handed Mr. Lee a leaflet on terrorism. Mr. Lee said:

"I have just come out of the Royal Air Force after serving 19 years and to be questioned in public for doing nothing wrong left me extremely upset."

I think we would all be upset by such a thing.

When I started looking into the matter, a number of incidents were related to me. My son told me that a year or so ago, when he was still at school, a fellow pupil was questioned for taking photographs at Moor Park underground station for his art project, and his school was called to get his bona fides. I found another case on the internet of a young lad called Fabian Sabbara, who was stopped when taking photographs—in his school uniform—for a school project.


Richard Taylor
Posted on 27 Jun 2009 5:21 pm (Report this annotation)

Police officers and PCSOs have asked me not to take photographs in public places on a number of occasions.

Having heard that others living, where I do, in North Cambridge were having similar experiences, and in light of the large number of reports nationally I decided to try and get my local police authority to take some action.

I asked a public question at a full meeting of Cambridgeshire Police authority. I initially got a dismissive reply, saying merely my concern had been noted. I have since got an agreement from a member of the authority and the chief executive of a possible way forward. I hope the authority will ask the force to improve its training in this area, and the authority will monitor what the force does.


Richard Taylor