Photographers 'should not be stopped without reason'

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Police officers should not use counter-terrorism laws to stop people taking photographs in public, a senior officer said today.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates said photographers and video camera users should not be stopped and searched without a valid reason.

He said there was no restriction on people taking photographs of public buildings or frontline police staff, other than in "very exceptional" circumstances.

And Mr Yates said there was "clear and unequivocal guidance" to officers that taking a picture alone was not enough to justify a stop and search.

He said: "Unless there is a very good reason, people taking photographs should not be stopped."

The National Union of Journalists and the British Press Photographers' Association claim counter-terrorism laws are being used to harass photographers.

There has been a surge in complaints that officers are abusing their powers and confronting people with cameras unnecessarily.

Photographers have claimed they were told certain buildings and uniformed police officers could not be pictured in Westminster.

In other cases, news crews were followed as they recorded items outside the Bank of England and publicly-owned banks in the City of London.

In February, hundreds of photographers gathered outside New Scotland Yard to demonstrate.

They said an amendment to the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 could be interpreted as banning photographs of police and certain places and leave them open to arrest.

Mr Yates said a message reminding officers of the law had been circulated to all borough commanders and published on the force's intranet.

He added that counter terrorism legislation created "important yet intrusive powers".

In a message to officers, he said: "They form a vital part of our overall tactics in deterring and detecting terrorist attacks.

"We must use these powers wisely. Public confidence in our ability to do so rightly depends upon your common sense.

"We risk losing public support when they are used in circumstances that most reasonable people would consider inappropriate."

Under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a police officer can stop and search someone if he has reasonable suspicion they are a terrorist.

The officer can view digital images and seize any article which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence.

Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a police officer can stop and search someone without reasonable grounds if they are in a designated area.

Officers do not have the power to delete digital images, destroy film or to prevent photography in a public place under either power.