Hassled by police for shooting in the street.

Welcome home back to the UK, NOT!

I was in Windsor, Berkshire, close to the Castle, a major tourist attraction, shooting with a Sony AX100, a compact consumer handycam. I was using a small 3 stage tripod and I was standing on the public right of way pavement shooting the castle. I had arrived in Windsor early to avoid the worst of the crowds.

After a few minutes I am approached by a single Police officer and a council warden. After exchanging pleasant “good mornings” The first question I am asked is: “What are you doing, is it for professional or private purposes?”.

Now, I know that as I am not on private property I can shoot without restriction and it makes no difference whether I am an amateur or a professional, there is no differentiation between the two under UK law when it comes to taking photos or video both have the same rights.

So as I’m unsure quite how to respond as I am a professional cameraman, but I was not shooting for any particular production or client I respond: “Does it make a difference whether it’s professional or private?”, to which the warden tells me yes it does, it makes a difference (which is incorrect). Next I’m asked who I’m working for etc.

OK, OK, hands in the air, I could have handled this better. But, I don’t have to explain to the police what I am doing, who I work for etc. I am perfectly within my rights to shoot video from a public pavement and I don’t need to explain to all and sundry what I am doing and why. I get fed up with being stopped by the police in this country whenever I turn up on a street with a pro camera or tripod.

So next I get the whole, well we have to be vigilant, you might be a terrorist bit. Huh? Would a terrorist stand with a tripod in such an obvious manner, there were people all over the place with all kinds of cameras shooting all kinds of thing, but because I had a tripod, was on my own and taking my time I was singled out as a terrorist threat! For goodness sake, it was a consumer camcorder just like the hundreds of others in the hands of the thousands of tourists that visit Windsor every day. Do the police stop all of them, or are they just singling out those that look like they might be professionals? If they want to know who I am then they should have asked for ID, but they didn’t, they never asked who I was, where I lived, jus whether I was shooting for professional or private purposes.

So I asked to be left alone so I could get on with what I was lawfully doing. After a couple of minutes they gave up and stood behind me chatting into their radios and making snide remarks that I was obviously meant to hear about about my attitude. I continued to shoot shots of the castle.

Then I look up from the camera to find a police sargent standing right in front of me,  blocking my shot. “Excuse me sir can you tell me what your doing?”.  By now I’m getting pretty angry with this whole thing. “I’m trying to shoot some video of the castle, but you’re preventing me from doing it”. “Oh no, I’m not stopping you” say’s the policeman.

windsor-police-2-1024x576 Hassled by police for shooting in the street.
Prevent from shooting by the Police in Windsor. Although not physical stopped, by standing in front of the camera this police office made it hard for me to shoot.

Uh well actually, while perhaps not physically restraining me, the fact that the guy was standing in front of me along with the constant hassling meant I was prevented from shooting, so after a further “discussion” about my right to shoot and not being a terrorist I was in effect forced to move on simply to get away from the now 3 police officers and a warden making it very hard to do what I wanted to do.

Why is it I can travel around the world shooting this and that all over the place, but when I return to my home country I get prevented from going about my lawful business under the pathetic pretext of being some kind of terrorist threat. I don’t have to explain what I am doing, who I work for, whether I’m shooting for private or commercial purposes when I’m going about my business in a public area. Clearly the police didn’t like the fact that I knew my rights.

I admit that I could of handled the situation better, but when the first question you get asked is whether your shooting for private or commercial purposes you just can’t tell what’s coming next. Plus, frankly the situation should never have arisen in the first place. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I shouldn’t have to explain to the police what I am doing just because I’m using a tripod. I am really fed up with this happening here in the UK. It’s crazy because whenever I want to go and shoot something, I don’t want this kind of hassle, so I have to try to figure out locations where I won’t be bothered by the police. I shouldn’t have to do this.

30 thoughts on “Hassled by police for shooting in the street.”

  1. I feel your pain. Pretty similar laws in Australia, although some local councils (such as in the Melbourne CBD) now have the right to make you move if you use a tripod.

    I was shooting a corporate video for a company that installs security cameras years ago and was directed to film one of their installations on a maximum security prison outside Brisbane. Accompanied by one of their staff members I was filming camera installations on the guard towers from public land. Unknown to me the company forgot to notify the prison. We ended up being held at gun point for over an hour. Luckily the German Shepherd attack dog was kept in it’s cage in their van. Eventually the Prison Manager came out and only let us go after reviewing everything I’d shot. These days I want written permission in my hand before filming anything remotely like a prison 😉

    @m1kew

  2. Good piece of advice for all cameramen working on the streets of any major city these days is to carry a copy of the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines for
    working with the Press. Its very useful to say you are complying with the agreement set out by the annoying Policeman’s boss. Also very difficult for them to dispute.

  3. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I deeply appreciate the awesomeness of your work. Thank you for sharing the majesty of it! A trip to see the Northern Lights is on my Bucket List <3 happy thoughts
    p.s. How ironic that we are being tracked on the internet with "Cookies" (what a sweet word) for commercial purposes, virtually everywhere we go, which is then used to bombard us with advertising. I would have taken many shots of the gen-u-ine Bobby… for commercial purposes LOL!

  4. Hi Alister, are you an NUJ member? If so, go through them to lodge a complaint with the Chief Constable of Berkshire about this. The Home Secretary sent guidance to chief police officers a couple of years ago about this kind of situation, reminding them that photographers should be left to pursue their peaceful business. Perhaps its time these particular policemen were reminded again. Did you get their badge numbers?

    1. Yes, it is possible that using a tripod could cause an obstruction, but I carefully positioned myself besides a trash bin so that was not the case and obstruction was never mentioned, it was all about either private or commercial work or being a terror threat.

  5. I would say come to Scotland, you won’t get any bother, but sadly thats not quite true…

    It is so inconsistent and seems to be down to how well informed and trained they are, a friend was hassled and put in a police van for photographing near a shopping, he was on a public right of way, and questioned, no tripod, just taking a few snaps, so no obstruction…
    Yet in the dead of night we were down at/near a Nuclear power station, we were stopped by police and asked if we were fishing etc, we said no, night photography and they told us the best place to go and park for interesting shots, said rather you than me, its freezing and said good night, we were there for maybe 2-3 hours and never seen another soul, you would think that a Nuclear power station would attract more paranoia about people wandering about in the early hours than a street near a shopping center in broad daylight, apparently not.
    If the information and training is poor, so is the service they “provide”.

  6. Amazing. With all the publicity regarding photography in public places one would think that the police would be more aware and less obnoxious. The behaviour of the police and the warden in this case is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. They bullied and harrassed a citizen going about his lawful business. Their knowledge of the law woeful and wrong. I was a police officer for 28yrs, I retired 10 years ago and I am ashamed of this type of behaviour which seems to be the modus operandi of police, wardens and PCSOs who like to flex their muscles and intimidate ordinary people because they are inept in dealing with more serious matters. It’s a bloody disgrace.

  7. The only thing that I can think of to avoid this problem is to phone ahead… I know, it’s stupid and we shouldn’t have to. But, considering how stupid the law is, it’s the best option. Or we could protest to the government. Too many have had to deal with this crap.
    I did have a run in with the police last year, although not under terrorism, it was due to someone assuming I was taking photos of children in the park.
    1. My own children were in fact in the park at the time (but I wasn’t taking photos of them)
    2. I’m still confused has to how somebody mistook a tree trunk for a child. Their children must be odd looking or they need to visit the opticians.

    Though I did come out on top, I proved to the police that I had not taken shots of children. One of the officers clearly knew a little about photography, he realised that the kit I was using was for macro.
    Anyway, they told other officers on the radio “He’s just been taking photos of ants and their brilliant”.

    Though my story was far better than yours and many others, it’s still ridiculous that we photographers are singled out because of the kit we use and the time we put into composition and framing.

  8. Since the question is legally pointless, I might respond to the opening “What are you doing, is it for professional or private purposes?” as the phatic communication (like a ‘good morning, how are you etc?‘) that it actually is. And maybe go with a pleasant non-answer (thus addressing him as a fellow human rather than as an authority) like “You a photographer yourself then?” rather than the correct – but authority challenging – “What’s it to you, sunshine?” that the chap will inevitably interpret any legitimate response, no matter how politely put, as.

    Thus are you demonstrating an insouciant lack of belief that it could have been a serious question. If things escalate you’d be in a position to say, later, that it hadn’t occurred to you that it had been a serious question but that you thought he was just making conversation.

    Having the ACPO card to show, when you can no longer plausibly keep this up, is certainly handy. Even that will be interpreted as a challenge to authority. But by then it’s too late, has gone beyond reason, and you’ve nothing to lose, so it’s OK.

    1. Pleasant good mornings had already been exchanged. I’m sorry but this is such a regular occurrence that I find it easier to get straight to the point rather than beat around the bushes, eventually they are going to want an answer to the question. I just want to know why they are asking.

      IF they were really concerned about a terror or security threat there are many more questions that could be asked, “That’s a nice camera, is it any good”, “we’re concerned that you may be a security threat, would you mind answering some questions”, “we are concerned that your tripod might cause an obstruction, are you going to be long”.

      But no, the blunt and direct question is private or commercial.

  9. It is a matter of attitude – if you are bolschey, they will respond in kind, and it would appear (you admitted it – “OK, hands in the air … “), you weren’t forthcoming. It’s so easy to explain one’s self. Yes, the police are well within their right to approach you and ask questions, and, yes, you do have to explain yourself (they are hardly “all and sundry – have some respect). When they are satisfied they will be on their way. If I recall from my visit to Windsor many years ago, the sidewalks aren’t very wide, so impeding other users with your tripod will be an issue (in your case it was before the throngs descended, granted, but bear it in mind). If you think you have “problems” with police, try photographing in the US – New York – I think they see a terrorist under every stone; daft, they are, and tiresome. Don’t be argumentative or shirty, just move on; around the block perhaps, and five minutes later continue with your shoot.

    1. No you are wrong. In the UK, you do not have to answer any police questions unless you are under arrest. You have a right to go about your business. I was not argumentative or shirty. I just asked if there was a difference between my status if I was filming for private or commercial reasons as the implication was that there was a difference, which there is not.

      Why, oh why, should I have to avoid the police when I am going about my legal business? This is not the society I wish to live in, one where people are fearful of the law, even when doing nothing wrong.

      I was very careful not to cause an obstruction, standing next to waste bins etc and avoiding the narrower parts of the pavement.

  10. Hi Tom.
    That is good advice that you have supplied, however, do you think you could supply details of how to acquire one of those ACPO guideline cards/warrants. I personally use a card that I received from the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, which I always show, should anybody/thing get in the way of me getting “THE” shot.

    1. A formal complaint has been made. So far the police have responded to my radio interview with something along the lines of: “The police were ensuring the route of a parade was secure (the daily Windsor changing of the guard, 2 hours after I was there) and after questioning it was established that he was not a security threat”.

      I say nonsense, this had nothing to do with security risk. There were hundreds of other cameras in use at the time.

  11. Hi Alister, I agree it is really a pain but apparently, if the place is privately owned, and this one is isn’t it? the tripod becomes a problem.(try to plant one on Southbank, next to Westminster bridge, or on Trafalgar Square) I believe that taking stable pictures make them monetizable and from there becomes a business, for which you need an authorisation and so on… But you know all of that better than me. It’s quite upseting and ruins your moment.

    1. Trafalgar square is one of the very few “special places” in the UK where commercial filming is actually illegal without a permit. If you are on a public right of way such as a pavement, road or footpath with unrestricted public access and no markings to indicate that you are on private land then you are perfectly entitled to film. Generally speaking a footpath or pavement next to a road will be part of the public right of way. Normally studs or some other marking will be used to indicate any boundary between the public right of way and any private land. The pavements alongside the roads in Windsor are public rights of way. The Southbank is private land.

  12. You were not asked for ID but you were asked who you were working for. Perhaps it would have satisfied them had you flashed your NUJ card and said “I’m press”.

    I know it’s a hassle and you shouldn;t have to do it, but unfortunately it’s the way things have been for a while now.

    Perhaps the minimum of compliance would allow you to have the minimum of hassle?

    1. So when asked, are you shooting for private or commercial purposes and being told that this makes a difference as to how whether you can shoot, how would you answer? It wasn’t a news shoot, but a semi-commercial shoot. Why should we just bend over to “the way it is now” when it’s wrong.

  13. Thanks for posting this story Alister.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience but and whilst I hate to say this, it’s good to know that other people have had the same problems that I have come across when filming in public places.

    Philip Bloom has a neat little blue card to print out which can help when one is trying to explain that what you are doing is entirely within the law.

    http://philipbloom.net/2009/04/14/filming-in-public-places/

    As you very honestly point out ‘I admit that I could of handled the situation better’ the trick is stay very calm and remain polite whilst asserting your right to be doing what you are doing.

    And if things get sticky, be prepared to walk away.

    Frustrating eh!

    1. My issue is.. why, when asked the question, is this for commercial or private use, should I even need to worry about how I answer? Why should I feel that I would be better off lying to the police and saying it’s for private use.

      I was polite, I was calm (at least at the outset, I did get quite angry when the 3rd police officer joined in), I just asked whether it made any difference whether it was for private or not. To which I’m told it does make a difference (un-true). So, rather than being tempted to lie, I declined to answer the question as I’m not sure where the conversation is going, which is my right. Then I’m accused of being a potential terror threat as I won’t answer the question. I don’t believe I was stopped because I was a terror threat. This is about the right to film in a public place.

  14. I photograph railways, and we’ve had this sort of attitude for several years now.

    I’ve had terrorism, tresspass, not allowed to, and illegal used at me, and with the last one, the ‘private security’ goons demanded deletion of images and they’d call the police if I didn’t do it. So, knowing that they didn’t have the authority, nor did the police have the authority, I called them out on it. When the officer arrived, I just pointed out that “…the two security goons, who had obsucred identies and had refused to identify themselves, had demand deletion of images outside their authority. These images were taken within Network Rail guidelines, and when I refused, they expect you to exceed your authority and demand deletion. So, can I just leave now?” “Yes”

  15. I carry a printed copy of the Metropolitan Police’s guide for photographers which clearly states that you can film in public. This also applies to train stations. I filmed at Hampton Court a couple of years ago but took the precaution of clearing this with the Palace office beforehand.
    One of the guards came up and told me i could not film but went off with his tail between his legs when I said I had written permission. He didn’t even ask to see it.

    Remember, the job of the police in the UK is not just to prevent crime but to prevent obstruction of citizens going about their lawful business – that includes filming as long as you are not causing an obstruction.

  16. Railway stations are private property and a land owner can stipulate conditions to anyone wishing to access their private property. While there is no law that says photography on private land is illegal, the land owner can make “no photography” a condition of access and therefore be entitled to ask you to leave the property if you choose to take pictures.

    Network Rail allow photography and video for non commercial purposes on stations but any commercial work (anything you might sell or make money from) requires permission (normally involving a not insignificant fee) form Network Rail and/or operating company. Stations are not a public right of way so they can eject you from the property if they believe you are taking commercial images.

  17. This happens to me all the time here in NYC. Alister in my opinion you handled it perfectly. If it was me I would have said “Why do you ask” which probably would have made it worse. If you were in an anti western protest calling for the death of all westerners they probably would have left you alone. The whole world is upside down these days.

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