“We can do anything under the terrorism act”

10th December, 2010

NUJ press release on branch Chair Jess Hurd‘s successful IPCC complaint:

The NUJ has hit out at police claims they ‘can do anything under the Terrorism Act’, following the success of photographer Jess Hurd in a complaint to the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC).

Ms 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.

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 (ECtHR) 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.

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”.

NUJ Deputy General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said:

“It is an abuse of power that the police acted in this way and we congratulate Jess for challenging them and helping to bring pressure to bear to get these powers scrapped”.

Ms Hurd’s solicitor Chez Cotton said:

“It is critical that the police are not allowed to use very serious counter-terrorism measures as a general stop and search provision as has happened in my client’s case and has happened in many other cases involving NUJ members and amateur photographers alike. The use, or threatened use, of terrorism powers against journalists has had a chilling effect on their ability to report freely and without fear of arrest.  The current review of key counter terrorism and security measures must be used to ensure any powers given to the police cannot be misused in an arbitrary and discriminatory way, otherwise such powers will not enjoy the support or confidence of the public.”
NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff said:

“We welcome the IPCC’s findings in Jess Hurd’s favour. These events should never have taken place in the first instance. The role of journalists, including photographers, as the public watchdog, must be respected. It is one of the essential elements of a democratic society that journalists are entitled to inform the public, which itself is entitled to be informed. In addition the police should not store information on journalists who are doing their job and have committed no crime.”

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.”

The complaint made by Ms Hurd:

Police officers, who were aware that a wedding reception was taking place at the hotel in London Docklands, and had seen Ms Hurd filming guests as they were leaving, approached her to see ‘what she was doing’.

Although Ms Hurd could see no legitimate reason for their interest, she wished to co-operate and resolve matters swiftly, and explained to the officers that she had been professionally engaged to cover the wedding and was an accredited photojournalist.

She offered her Press Card so that her credentials could be checked by the police, there being in force nationally agreed Guidelines between the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and media organisations (see resources at the end of the press release).  Each accredited NUJ member has a unique PIN number and photographic ID, and the police have access to a 24 hour ‘hotline’ that they can call to verify the personal details and identity of a legitimate member of the press. The Guidelines set out that the police will recognise the holder of a valid Press Card, issued by the UK Press Card Authority Limited, as ‘a bona fide news gatherer’.

The Guidelines are comprehensive and should be known and followed by all police officers.

A second officer, aware of Ms Hurd’s status as a journalist and that her footage had been obtained through legitimate journalistic activity, said he wished to view the film.  He said she was being stopped under ‘Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act’.

Ms Hurd protested that she was clearly a journalist and as the footage was professional they could not interfere.  Ms Hurd was then told that she could have been ‘doing hostile reconnaissance’, although this was entirely at odds with the circumstances confirmed by Ms Hurd and supported by the evidence of the reality of the situation.

Ms Hurd’s camera was forcibly taken from her by the 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”.

A third officer took the camera and watched footage with a further officer who was still in the police car, some distance from Ms Hurd.  She was fearful that her entire days work could be wiped and was by now feeling intimidated, as she was in a dark car park being questioned in an intimidating way by police officers.

Ms Hurd was informed that she could not use any footage of the police car or police officers and that if she did there would be ‘severe penalties’, although these were not specified.

The officer concluded the matter confirming to Ms Hurd that if she did want to use the footage then she would have to go through the Metropolitan Police press office, as it was ‘his copyright’, and, although the officers were not undercover at that point, they might be at some point in the future.

In relation to Ms Hurd’s complaint, the IPCC accepted that:

“Arguably with the assistance of hindsight the officers could have handled this incident differently, from a public confidence and satisfaction perspective.”

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on 10 December.

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