Sometime before Christmas I came across this video of a photographer that was arrested for failing to give his details to police:
Reading the report of the arrest on the amateur photographer website (Arrested Street Photographer 'antisocial', police maintain):
Lancashire Police said it does not routinely stop people taking photographs in a public place but 'clearly felt that the manner in which he was positioning his [Leica] camera and the way it was making some members of the public feel, could be construed as anti-social or indecent'.
A spokeswoman added: 'The gentleman refused to co-operate on three occasions and so officers felt they had no choice but to make an arrest in order to make further enquiries into his actions.'
Now, I had to wonder, what positions of a camera can be construed as anti-social or indecent, but not actually be anti-social or indecent? (If the positions he used the camera in were anti-social or indecent, then he wouldn't have been released without charge).
So I contacted Lancashire Police to try and find this information. Unfortunately they weren't much help, when I finally managed to get a reply out of them, they said:
There are a number of websites on the internet that provide you with detailed information on the acceptable standard and code of conduct when taking photographs. The main focus is the peoples right to privacy. Even though most of the websites concentrate on serious legal issues, anti social behaviour is inclusive.
http://www.wipo.int/sme/en/documents/ip_photography.htm is a legal pitfall site which may be able to advise you best on the clarification you are seeking, using a common sense approach.
If a complaint is received by Lancashire Constabulary with regards to any anti-social behaviour issue, each incident has to be judged on it’s own merits as no two are ever the same.
After replying to that message, they forwarded me on to Robin Edwards, who was previously the Staff Officer to the National Police Media Lead and published the guidance in terms of taking pictures in public places.
I spoke to Robin, and he was quite a bit more helpful than Lancashire Police had been. He said, basically, that if people complain about you taking photos, then the police have a duty to investigate. There are some things that are obviously a breach of privacy laws e.g. taking a photo up someone's skirt or kilt, but most of the time an officer will have to use their discretion.
Because the case of Bob Patefield never went to court, the information regarding that incident is not covered under the Freedom of Information Act. So if Lancashire Police decide they don't want to give out the details of the complaints they received against Bob Patefield, they don't have to.
Still, I can't understand why Lancashire Police won't release that information. By not releasing it, it makes it seem like they didn't have any reason to suspect that Bob was acting anti-socially.
While it might be our right not to give our details to police officers when it is requested without a lawful reason, I would be inclined to give my details when requested. Much simpler, easier, and quicker than winding up in a cell for a night. I also think we should give police officers the benefit of the doubt, they are only trying to do their job of protecting the public, after all. (Or at least most of them are).
If you are interested in your rights to take photos in the UK, there is a good guide available here: UK Photographers Rights Guide v2