Many police officers are apparently trying to prevent members of the public from filming them whilst on duty, even using the threat of arrest if the individuals do not comply. Officers have also been using ‘Stop and Search’ powers to dissuade press and other photographers from taking photographs.
Several recent cases have made it clear that without footage taken by the public, such as that of the fatal attack on Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests, the facts relating to the inappropriate use of force by the police would never have come to light, particularly as the police in that case had effectively denied any liability for Mr Tomlinson’s death. Indeed, many would say that the police were deliberate in their attempts to instigate a cover-up.
Individual police officers, often ignorant of the law, believe that the public have no right to film police operations even when they take place in public. However, this attitude of ignorance is contrary to the guidance that has been issued and suggests that officers are quite deliberately ignoring instructions.
Guidance issued by, for example, the Metropolitan Police has made it clear that:
“Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.”
It follows therefore that if police officers are threatening people with arrest for filming police activities which take place in the public arena, the officers themselves are guilty of breaking the law by harassing members of the public who are, by definition, going about their lawful business.
In January 2010 there was a protest in Trafalgar Square by photographers against the use of terrorism laws to stop and search photographers. A campaign called “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist” was launched to protect the rights of those taking photographs in public places.
Needless to say, their has been no public comment from the government regarding the issue of the police being filmed or photographed.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that what we are seeing here is another example of the arrogance of police officers who, having been given excessive power by successive governments over the last 20 years or so, now believe that they are themselves above the law. Their sole interest in life seems to be arresting people and bringing them to court whilst not giving any thought whatsoever as to whether or not individuals should be arrested in the first place.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (which believe it or not is a limited company!) is always maintaining that the police have insufficient powers with which to do their job. Surely, if the police can go around arresting innocent individuals who are behaving within the law, it’s fairly obvious to even the most pro-police supporter of the Rule of Law that the police already have too much power and that they are not afraid to throw their weight around when using it.
The Home Secretary,Theresa May makes a point every time she is questioned by MPs of stating that ‘It is important that we give the police the powers that they need in order to protect the public’, or words to that effect.
Once again therefore, we see a government that is willing to give in to those who wish to dictate to the rest of us, supposedly under the guise of ‘public protection’. Right wing MPs want the police to have more power to keep ordinary people under control whilst at the same time ensuring that they and others in power are able to exploit the system for their own benefit.
This is not new of course, such a system having been rampant in Britain ever since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. It has always been the intention in Britain to make the ordinary people serve the powerful and even in the 21st-century, with the added accessibility to the Internet and instant communication, the attitude of those who rule us seems to have changed very little.
The saddest thing of all, in the view of TheOpinionSite.org at least, is that the majority of the British public seem to be completely ignorant as to what is really going on in the battle between police supremacy and hard-won civil liberties. As the British people go about their daily lives they fail to understand that at any time they could be arrested for a public order offence even if they have done absolutely nothing wrong.
Whilst it is true that any error or fault of the arresting officer would probably come to light later on, it does not alter the fact that the individual would have been arrested in the first place, processed through the custody suite of the police station and inevitably spent time locked behind the door of a police cell.
Whilst the error may be uncovered later, the effect on the individual will stay with them forever. In their perverse way of thinking though, the trauma suffered by the innocent person is something that the police may suggest was a good thing. “After all,” the police might say, “if an individual has been arrested and held in a cell, maybe they will be frightened of ever encountering the police again in the future.”
One of the complaints issuing forth from both politicians and police officers during the recent riots in London and other cities across the country was that the young people involved had ‘no fear‘ of police officers. The inference therefore is that we should all be afraid of those whose job is to protect us.
Such is a situation that should never exist in the first place. Children love their parents because their parents protect them and whilst TheOpinionSite.org does not suggest for one moment we should all ‘hug a policeman’, we should certainly never have cause to be frightened of them.
If it is true, as senior officers and politicians have suggested, that the police need to rely on fear in order that they can carry out their duties satisfactorily, then there is something gravely wrong with our system of law enforcement in the UK.
It must be stated however that is not only the police that people are expected to fear. The Social Services in Britain have long been referred to as the “SS” because of their oppressive and sometimes vindictive behaviour towards parents or guardians of children and who have been accused of child abuse but are later found to be completely innocent. Despite any failure to discover any wrong doing, it is unlikely that any apology will be forthcoming from the authorities who may by this time have wrecked a perfectly good family.
Staff working for the UK Border Agency have also recently been criticised for frightening people into submission and by being over zealous in the discharge of their duties.
In essence, TheOpinionSite.org believes that is important that members of the British public understand once and for all that the police and other public officials work for us, the people. We do not have any responsibility towards them. Being such public employees, officials do not have the right to expect to be feared by the very people who are paying their salaries.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg made much noise about his so-called ‘Freedoms Bill’ shortly after the election last year. The Home Secretary has also promised review after review relating to CRB checks but so far nothing substantial has been forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, David Cameron has been systematically slagging off the Human Rights Act when in fact that is the only piece of legislation on the Statute Book that prevents this country from sliding into a very real and tangible police state.
All governments want more power over the people that they rule. It is hardly surprising therefore that when those that enforce the law are given excessive power by the executive, they go out and use it. It is not enough for the Home Secretary and Prime Minister to hide behind those two magic words that are so often used to introduce oppressive measures, “public protection”.
If ministers want the police to have more power over the rest of us, thus taking responsibility away from the government so that cannot be blamed for blunders made by the police, then it has got a long way to go in reassuring the public by clearing out the endemic criminality and fearful nature of police forces across the country.
Until that happens and until the rest of us can be assured that those in uniform and in positions of power are not abusing the excessive power that they already have, they should certainly not be given any further powers and should be forced, like the rest of us, to obey the law.
That includes them allowing people to take pictures of police officers on duty, even if the police themselves are fearful of later being held to account. That is what democracy is all about and let’s face it, there is little enough true democracy already in this country and we should not let those in power destroy what is left.