Officers claim they don't need law to stop photographer taking pictures

Jerome Taylor
Monday 28 June 2010 16:27 BST

Two police officers stopped a teenage photographer from taking pictures of an Armed Forces Day parade - and then claimed they did not need a law to detain him.

Jules Mattsson, a 16-year-old freelancer from Hackney, east London, was photographing police cadets on Saturday when he was ordered to stop and give his personal details by an adult cadet officer who claimed he needed parental permission to capture images of the cadets.

After arguing his rights in a series of protracted legal debates with officers, the sixth former says he was pushed down a set of stairs and detained for breaching the peace until the parade passed.

He is now considering taking legal action against the Met which has often been criticised for its heavy handed approach towards photographers in the capital.

The student, who works as a freelance photojournalist in his spare time, decided to record his confrontation on his mobile phone, providing an insight into the legal arguments that the officers were using to justify stopping him from taking photographs.

The parade he was photographing was one 350 public marches held to mark Armed Forces Day, a new event which was created last year amid criticism that the country didn't do enough to honour its military.

Mr Mattson said his confrontation began when he started taking photographs of police cadets.

“I was quickly and aggressively stopped by one of their adult officers asking me who I worked for,” he wrote on his blog. “I responded that I was a freelance and upon being told I needed parental permission to photograph them, I explained this was a public event in a public place and that I didn’t for editorial use.”

The audio recording begins minutes later with an officer initially arguing that it is illegal to take photographs of children. He then claims that it is illegal to take images of army members and police officers.

Under laws that guarantee the freedom of press in Britain, there is no restriction on photography of children, police or armed forces in a public space. There is new legislation to protect the identities of some police officers but only those working undercover or in instances where an officer genuinely believes a photographer is collecting data for terrorist purposes.

In the audio recording, when asked by Mr Mattsson what law police were using to detain him and ask for details, one officer replies: “We don’t have to have a law.”

The 16-year-old continues to argue his case, informing the officers that he has a right to photograph in public places and asks whether he can get back to work.

Instead he is told by a second officer that he is now “considered a threat under the Terrorism Act” and escorted away from the parade. Mr Mattsson claims he was then pushed down a set of four concrete stairs and detained until the parade passed.

The incident in Romford came just 24 hours after the force was forced to pay compensation to two photojournalists for a similar incident. Marc Vallee and Jason Parkinson took civil action against the Met after they had their camera equipment grabbed by officers in December 2008 while reporting on a protest outside the Greek Embassy.

In a public apology the Met admitted that its officers had “failed to respect press freedom” of the two journalists and agreed to pay them each £3,500 plus legal costs.

Police forces across the country were told to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers after The Independent ran a campaign last year highlighting how legislation was being regularly misused. But groups representing photographers say the message is often struggling to get through to some front line officers.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said the force had no information on the incident but added that police officers should not stop amateur or professional photographers from capturing images in a public place.

Mr Mattsson has been given legal advice not to talk publicly about the incident. He is believes to be planning to take legal action against the Met.

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