Friday, 10 December 2010

Police can't do 'what they like' under Terror Act

The NUJ has welcomed the success of photographer Jess Hurd in a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission - after she was stopped and searched - as showing it was wrong for officers to claim they "can do anything under the Terrorism Act".

Hurd, one of the founders of the 'I am a photographer, not a terrorist' campaign and Chair of the NUJ London Photographers' Branch, was stopped by police officers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 whilst filming the wedding reception of a traveller couple in the City of London, as part of an on-going documentary project.

Despite confirming she was a member of the press and showing a valid Press Card she was subjected to a stop and search under the controversial legislation. Her camera was forcibly taken from her by an officer, despite her protests that there were safeguards in place to ensure a free press. The officer's response was: "We can do anything under the terrorism act".

The IPCC acknowledged that in relation to the suspension of the use of Section 44 "it is cases such as this that have helped in bringing about such changes". According to the NUJ, the IPCC also accepted that: "Arguably with the assistance of hindsight the officers could have handled this incident differently, from a public confidence and satisfaction perspective."

NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "NUJ member Jess Hurd was detained for more than 45 minutes by police during a wedding in London's Docklands, her camera was forcibly removed and she was told the police can do anything under the Terrorism Act. The NUJ believes legislation should not be abused and no journalist should be singled out by the police.

"The police service has no legal powers or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict photographer's work. The NUJ will continue to take action in support of our members when they are targeted by police, we welcome the judgment from the IPCC especially the acknowledgement that the use of stop and search powers are not seen as fair or effective."

Section 44 does not require an officer to have 'reasonable suspicion' in order to carry out a search and has now been found by the European Court of Human Rights to breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds that the powers were too broadly drawn and there were inadequate safeguards against abuse.

Following an outcry over the use of the law against professional and amateur photographers the Government has amended the police's powers pending the outcome of a review of counter-terrorism powers, including the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography.
  • More on the NUJ website
  • Pic: Photographers protest against Section 44 in Trafalgar Square (Jon Slattery)

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