Friday, April 10, 2009

House Points: Police harrassment of photographers

My House Points column from today's issue of Liberal Democrat News.

The UK Press Gazette - which, sadly, is now a solely web-based publication - takes a more positive view of the outcome of John Randall's debate. We shall see.

Sipson Stasi

Because I own land there, I take a keen interest in the Middlesex village of Sipson. I was concerned last Thursday when John Randall, the Tory MP for Uxbridge, said police had used anti-terrorism laws to stop someone photographing its buildings.

Sipson is the village that will be destroyed if a third runway is built at Heathrow. And Greenpeace has bought a field there to sell off in small plots (hence my landholding), making it hard for the authorities to arrange compulsory purchase.

Randall was taking part in the Easter adjournment debate. In his speech he referred to a debate on photography in public places he had called in Westminster Hall the previous day. Then, stories of the harassment of innocent photographers had tumbled from Randall and the other MPs taking part.

Someone photographing decrepit properties in Uxbridge had inadvertently snapped a car containing community support officers parked on a double yellow line. One of them came over and said he must delete the photograph.

A 15-year-old in school uniform taking pictures at Wimbledon station as part of a GCSE project was stopped by community support officers and asked to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Andrew Pelling (the former Tory who now sits as an Independent) had been stopped and searched on suspicion of terrorism for taking pictures of roadworks near East Croydon station.

And who would dare take a camera to an event involving children these days?

The minister who replied was Shahid Malik. The Independent sketchwriter Simon Carr once said: “It's not that politicians lie, it's that they don't know if they are telling the truth.” He meant that ministers rarely know much about the events they discuss so authoritatively. They rely on advisers and civil servants to tell them what is going on out there.

Just before his time ran out, it began to dawn on Malik that the world he and his colleagues have built is nothing like he has been told. “Anecdotally,” he said “there seems to be a disconnect between what the Government intended and what might be happening on the ground.”

When they hear about that the whips will want to bury him under concrete at Sipson. To stop them, visit

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