“We don’t have to have a law”

by scotslawstudent

No photos - Jules Mattsson C 2010

The police have once again displayed their enviable ability to be very quotable while saying Bond villain ominous things. The current one is a 16 year freelance photojournalist who was photographing a major parade that was walking down a high street. It’s a situation that is so public, so common and so clearly photograph-able that stopping someone doing it is a bit ridiculous.

The worst thing I took from that was when the photographer was almost arrested for swearing (at 5:55 in the video). Because the police officer had pushed him down some stairs. That’s a modern version of the classic “breaking a policeman’s foot with your face”.

He did really pretty well there. It’s hard to keep as calm as that in these situations, especially if you’re getting poked, grabbed, shoved and implicitly accused of crimes ranging from spying (taking photos of the military) to child abuse (taking photos of children) to terrorism (annoying the police) by a large group of people with weapons, a reputation of this sort of thing and state backing. This wouldn’t even be an story if he hadn’t managed to record it.

You don’t really want to talk to the police, because it doesn’t benefit you to do so. The very best that will happen to you after talking to the police is that you’ll continue to do what you were already doing and not be arrested, but if the police are restricting your rights like this you’re really faced with no option but to question what they’re doing. The police need authority to do anything, that’s how civil liberties work – if something’s not a crime it’s not a crime to do it. There’s an element of creating a paper trial in these situations – you want some extra proof of what happened because you don’t want to end up with your word against a police officer. Ask them if you’re detained, what law they’re enforcing and if you’re free to go. Definitely try to get their names, numbers etc so that you can identify them later. I do wonder what would happen if you said you want to take a photo of the officer because it will let you identify the officer when you complain but that is why you want a photo of the officer if possible. It’s not illegal to photograph/film police officers and the IPCC has refused to investigate complaints, even quite serious ones, where the officer can’t be identified by the person making the complaint.

The officer in this story changed his story constantly and, although it is possible the 16 year old Jules was a spy or a child abuser or a terrorist or behaving antisocially or blocking traffic, the odds of him being all five at the same time are seriously pretty unlikely. If you’re doing something wrong the police can arrest you for that, they don’t five different things. The police should have identified what he was doing wrong at least before they pushed him down the stairs if not before they spoke to him to begin with.

Luckily there’s an audio recording, there’s photos of the officers, there’s a whole lot of press coverage (Independent). There were four figure settlements paid to photographers for similar police misconduct the day before. It should be reasonably easy for him to get this sorted out. I do wish him luck.

The sad thing to remember is that the substantial settlement he is almost certain to get from the police for this incident comes straight out of tax payer funds. This is wrong. Make the officer pay it – it’s their fault after all. The police officers who are doing their jobs correctly and are protecting the public can spend the money they aren’t paying out when they mess up from their budgets on new ways to protect tax payers (and students).