Posts tagged: journalism

Jun 29 2010

Misuse of police powers, case analysis

As nice to start the day online with some annoying news. Thanks to BoingBoing for the link this..

Two police officers stopped a teenage photographer from taking pictures of an Armed Forces Day parade – and then claimed they did not need a law to detain him.

It requires a bit of attention, but I recommend listening to the audio recording the teenage photographer made. The particulars of what the 16yo photographer (student and part-time freelance journalist) is doing wrong changes at least twice a minute. In order it goes:
(actual accusations are in BOLD, items of note are in ITALIC)
Unclear portions in [square brackets].

  • Taking photographs of children – Public event in a public place, not illegal.
  • Taking photographs of military personnel – Public event in a public place, not illegal.
  • Implying he’s not answering questions properly/to their satisfaction – Unknown prior to where the recording starts.
  • Taking photographs of the officer questioning him is “drawing attention to himself” – True, but not illegal. Mr Mattsson states it’s due to them grabbing his arm.
  • No answer to what law he’s being asked for his details under, just more demands for the details – Possibly illegal to not provide details, but only if officers have provable grounds for suspicion (IIRC).
  • At the fourth time Mr Mattsson asks “Under what law are you taking my details” the officer replies “[we] don’t have to have any law to take your details” (@1m into recording) – Strictly speaking you could argue that you don’t need a law for the act of taking someones details if offered, but these details are being coerced, and secondly as they’re being taken by an on-duty police officer are subject to both the law and data-protection act.
  • Identified as taking photographs [of the event] and that “he can’t be doing that, unless he’s been given permission to do that” – Untrue, public event took place in a public space.
  • “When you’re asked to stop taking photographs of children, it becomes a little bit of a grey-area, yeah?” – Again, not true when it’s a public event in a public place (unless they’ve got some particular reason to suspect ulterior motives, I believe).
  • “You’re not being detained.” “Then why did you prevent me from leaving?” “Because you were acting the silliest[?]” “But that’s detaining.” “You know you were[n’t?], you were running around, being stupid [again/ and gay].” (@1m41s)
  • Is told he can go if he stays in a particular area, because they’re trying to form up the parade. Re-states that it’s a public area. – Probably the most legitimate complaint on the polices part here. If they’re trying to get the parade set up, having someone wandering through taking photos could get in their way. Not illegal, but rather rude if Mr Mattsson is actually getting in their way.
  • The above is probably the longest single argument, and does seem to be the nub of the matter. The police want everyone out of the way while they set up, which is understandable. However it rapidly descends back into attempting to force Mr Mattsson to leave by illegal threats rather than just asking. Possibly if the officer had just asked if he could step back to clear the space, rather than threatening him…?
  • Claims by police that Mr Mattsson needs signed parental consent forms to take photographs of the children present – Not true when for editorial use.
  • Breach of the peace (@3m30s) – Debatable, but unlikely when accused is only repeatedly asking what he’s being held under.
  • Hazard to the public (@3m35s) – Again, unlikely as no physical acts have occurred. At worst, he’s being a nuisance to the parade set-up.
  • Tells him that he will get trampled by soldiers (@3m45s) – I thought this was a childrens/cadets parade?
  • “We are concerned about terrorism at this event. Taking photographs of police officers and police staff is a criminal offence under these circumstances.” “No it’s not.” “Right, I’m John Fisher, I’m in charge of this parade. I’m not going to enter into a state with you [illegible]” (@3m53s) – Now escalating into terrorism threats?
  • “Can you tell me what law it’s an offence under?” “Young man, you are an agitator. [illegible] You clearly are. You are recording what I’m saying for later reference. I have better things to do; go away.” (@4m11s) – I agree that John Fisher has better things he could be doing.
  • Told he will not “disrupt” the parade and that he has to stay in a specific area, and he will not pass. Told that he’s not being detained but that he will not walk past him (the officer). (@4m48s) – It is a public space, and strictly speaking the officer has no right to block his way unless he genuinely believes someone’s in danger (again, IIRC). Does then state “I am concerned for your safety.” (@4m58s)
  • “You know what? I consider you a threat under the terrorism act young man.” “Hey, give me my camera back! Give me my camera back!” -sounds of scuffling- “Under what law am I being detained officer?? [muffled]” (@5m22s)
  • Fisher: “Right [I’ve/we’ve] had enough..” Mattsson: “Hands off me please! Hey, give me that camera!” Fisher: “[illegible] walk this way..” Mattsson: “Under what law am I being detained officer?! Under what law am I being detained officer?? Can you please take your hands off me and tell me under what law I am being detained? Hands off me! If I’m being arrested you have to tell me what law it is under! Is that correct? Oi! [a yell and sound of a fall into echoing space] Fuck! Did you just PUSH me down the stairs??” Fisher: “It’s a public order offence to swear in this area.” Mattsson: “You pushed me down the stairs!” (starts @5m23s) – That’s the sound of three Metropolitan Police Officers taking the camera from a 16yo journalist and pushing him down some steps, then telling him off for swearing once.
  • Mattsson: “The officer just pushed me down the stairs!!” Officer: “And you stay down there.”
  • Officer: “Please do not take photos of me because it will prevent me from doing covert operations in the future.” (@6m48s) – Untrue. Only covers officers currently engaged in covert operations (IIRC).
  • “Under my public privacy law I do not wish you to [take my photograph – talked over]” “No, in a public space there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
  • Mattsson: “Breach of the peace, how?” Fisher: “You know what you were doing.” Mattsson: “I took a photo and that’s my right to do so.” Fisher: “It was, and we support your right to [?] this parade is a reasonable way. However what you will not do is purposefully disrupt..” [interrupting] Mattsson: “I did not purposefully disrupt! One of the uniformed staff..” Fisher: “[?] ..Look, you’re recording what I’m saying. [stop recording. – muffled]” Mattsson: “No, I’m not going to stop recording.” Fisher: “I’ve told you why you’re detained. You ARE detained. I’m the inspector Fish[er?], under my authority, to prevent a breach of the peace, because of the anxiety you were causing to members of the public back there..” Mattsson: “The anxiety I was causing taking pictures?” Fisher: “Fair enough. I’m obliged to [? – something “for transport”?], you are detained for acting in an anti-social manner.. [illegible]” [interrupting] Mattsson: “I have not been acting in an antisocial manner. Under what law am I going to supply my details?” Fisher: “Under the breach of the peace law.” Officer: “[illegible] ..down at the police station, you’re under arrest.”(@7m08s)
  • Video ends on some of the shots Mattsson took at the parade.

I think perhaps the key to this is the point where the article describes the officer as “an adult cadet officer”. Presumably that means he was one of the officers directly organising the event, so there exists the possibility that it was a sense of infringed personal superiority that caused him to threaten Mr Mattsson so. It’s an aspect of human nature we expect police officers to be able to overcome, specifically so we receive fair an impartial treatment in the eyes of the law.

However instead we see the young (in fact, in the eyes of the law, juvenile) reporter accused of, in order; Taking photos of children, taking photos of the military, annoying the officers by not providing details, “drawing attention to himself”, taking photos in a public place without permission, taking photos of children without permission, lack of consent forms, a breach of the peace, being a hazard to the public, that he’d be in harms way from the parade, implying that he might be working for terrorists, of being an “agitator”, of revealing a police officer in convert operations, of a public order act for swearing, another breach of the peace, causing anxiety to the public and finally breach of the peace again (for which he is apparently arrested).

As well as being told he didn’t have to be charged to legally required to provide his details, he’s told to stay in a particular area with no cordon or (apparent) reason for it; in a public space that’s detention without cause. He also apparently has his camera taken from him at one point and is (unintentionally?) pushed down a flight of 4 steps.

Additionally he’s escorted forcefully away as a threat under the terrorism act, before being charged for a mere breach of the peace.

All in under 9 minutes, by three police officers on a 16 year old boy taking photographs of a parade.

Maybe Mattsson is a freak 16yo; a 6’5″ brick shit-house with neo-nazi tattoos all over his face, and the police and public were understandably cautious of him. But from his voice, the fact he’s a part-time reporter as his hobby and has a very complete knowledge of his citizens rights, I don’t imagine that’s the case. I can readily imagine Mattsson being about 5’6″, fairly slim, a bit pale, occasionally bookish, and finding reporting a creative outlet. And possessing a great deal of self control.

The only argument for this sort of behaviour is that Mattsson was a minor nuisance to the officers involved, and maybe Mattsson should have just stayed out of their way as asked. In day to day civilian life, that can be a valid argument; sometimes it’s best to ignore people who’re being officious ass-holes. However these people were the police. The people we’re supposed to defer our own personal defence to. The people we are told by law that we are to rely on for our safety and liberty. So yes, when they start throwing illegal threats around and attempt to bully us into doing what they want with no legal backing, you have to stand up for what’s in the letter of the law. It may seem pedantic to some, but if you don’t then you loose control completely.

In this case, short of rolling over for police officers who were themselves breaking the law, I see nothing Mattsson could have done differently. I can’t think of a better example of police bullying than what happened here. The police wanted him to do something they had no official power to force him to do, so illegally threatened him with everything they could think of.

Jules Mattsson’s own blog of the incident can be found HERE. Praise be, connectivity.

(note: the Independent states Mattsson is 16, his YouTube account states 19. Will see which is correct.)

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