Photographer Takes Photos of Town Hall, Is Arrested Under Anti-Terror Laws

Photographer Takes Photos of Town Hall, Is Arrested Under Anti-Terror Laws

This week a British photographer was detained by police and subjected to searches of his camera after police suspected him of terrorism.

Eddie Mitchell, a press photographer who works for media outlets such as the BBC, was taking pictures of Hove town hall on Thursday afternoon when he was approached by a member of police staff. Citing that he wasn’t breaking any laws, Mitchell declined to give the officer any of his personal details or the reasoning behind his photo taking.

He was instructed to visit a local police station to give a statement, where he was subsequently detained under section 43 of the Terrorism Act. The act gives police the right to stop and search anyone they “reasonably suspect to be a terrorist.” Sussex police confirmed that Mitchell was searched due to refusing to “provide information or identification.”

Mitchell said of the incident:

I respect wholeheartedly that the police have a job to do, but there should be clarity on people taking pictures in a public place — it is not a crime … As far as I am concerned, it is a total misuse and abuse of power.

Lisa Bell, chief superintendent of Sussex police, claims the incident could have been resolved in minutes had Mitchell co-operated.

National Police Chiefs Council guidance states: “Police should not prevent anyone from taking photographs in public. This applies equally to members of the media and public seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places.”

Were the police just doing their job? Was this photographer right to withhold his personal information?

[via The Guardian]

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Reginald Walton's picture

Just proves that the terrorists have won. They've taken away our simple liberties.

John Pesina's picture

Abuse of power. Taking photos is not inherently suspicious, nor is it illegal, millions of people take photos with their phones and those images can be as high res as consumer grade dslr. So there is absolutely no justification for the police questioning him, unless there is another reason outside of the photography, and if so that should of been the reason listed for the questioning.

As a free citizen you don't have to answer any questions you don't want to, especially if you're not doing anything illegal.

Paul Parkinson's picture

Good grief. I thought this was all done and dusted years ago. The Police Officers have attempted to abuse their power here, completely. He was taking pictures. That is not illegal. He did not have to give them any information about himself. That is not illegal.

Top tip - in this situation ask them "Am I being detained?" If the answer is no, off you trot. If they say yes, ask them under what grounds? What ever they say then can be used against them later. It's harassment, pure and simple.

Terrorism? Tosh! The terrorists can get better and more information from Google Maps Streetview - if they need to fill in any gaps, just rock up with an iPhone...

Simon Patterson's picture

Actually, he was detained. I bet he has zero recourse, no matter what the police said at the time. Top tip - don't be a nob to the (often fickle) guys with the power to arrest you under draconian "terror laws".

Jonathan Frick's picture

How would you react if there stands "Terrorist catched while he was planning his assassination"
Disguised as a tourist he took pictures of the town hall....

T Dillon's picture

I would be highly disappointed in the horrendous grammar.

Michael Kormos's picture

"Mitchell declined to give the officer any of his personal details or the reasoning behind his photo taking."

So he refused to give the officers his name or the reasons why he was photographing a government building and everyone is up in arms that he got arrested? Maybe if he wasn't a jerk to the cops and politely showed them his press badge none of this would've happened.

Geoffrey Badner's picture

"the incident could have been resolved in minutes had Mitchell co-operated"

He was cooperating with the law, not the officers requests. Often times, police confuse those two things.

Anonymous's picture

So you only cooperate with people when legally required to do so?

Pink Ninja's picture

the police were working within the law as well.

Michael Yearout's picture

Why refuse to show your drivers license (identification) and explain why you are taking photographs of a government building? He was just asking for trouble.

Jorge Morales's picture

Good little boot licker, always do exactly as you are told and never question authority even when their request are not legal.

Spy Black's picture


Pink Ninja's picture

because their requests were legal under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act.

Anonymous's picture

I photograph secured government sites and have to get advance permission and phone in from an off-site call box to get in. Then I have to sign in at an administrative building and am often escorted everywhere. Upon leaving, I have to sign out. Cameras watch me enter and exit.

A few times, I've only needed a few shots taken from off site so I didn't bother with permission. Every time, within a few minutes someone drives out and asks for a lot more than my drivers license. I politely give them the required information and we both go about our day. A couple times, they've invited me in if I needed access. No problems.

If people weren't so damn worried about their rights and considered the position of others, there'd be a lot fewer stories like this one.

Postscript: Once, when I wasn't escorted, I got so wrapped up in my work that I stayed past when everyone left, forgetting I was there. I waited several hours, courtesy of a 12-foot fence and 3 strands of barbed wire, before someone came back to let me out. That's a whole other story! :-)

Simon Patterson's picture

Fascinating stories! And of course it is better to be open and polite, rather than being inconsiderate and demanding rights.

And isn't it ironic - the one time you wanted someone from security to come over to you, you had to wait for hours!

Spy Black's picture

"If people weren't so damn worried about their rights and considered the position of others, there'd be a lot fewer stories like this one."

Yes, it's so foolish to be worried about your rights...

Anonymous's picture

To the exclusion of consideration for others? Yes.
Balance in all things.

Spy Black's picture

You don't give up your rights to be polite.

Anonymous's picture

I don't see "being polite" so much as a right, to be exercised at my leisure, but more like the right (no pun intended :-)) thing to do.

Spy Black's picture

Being polite or considerate has nothing to do with your rights. If you need to get violent to defend them, so be it. Otherwise you wind up in a police state.

Anonymous's picture

I generally agree with your words but don't believe they apply to this situation. In any interaction, there are contributing variables which go unreported. Since this audience is not privy to them, some assume the worst of the policeman while others take a more measured approach. Perhaps you think the latter to be timid or naïve. I assure you, in my case it's not.
I'd rather incorrectly assume the best of people than the alternative. Of course, if they prove my assumptions to be in err, we WILL have a problem.

Pink Ninja's picture

don't you see you do have to cooperate? If you don't they can legally make your life less pleasurable. So what is the point. The police in this story are simply doing their job. The photographer "cut off his nose to spite his face." as the saying goes.

Nick Pecori's picture

One thing I noticed right away when I visited the UK last month is they DO NOT like cameras...anywhere. I pulled my camera out waiting for the tube to come and an official walked up to me telling me to put it away. I remember a few instances where I was doing some street photography and security officers did the same.

Jack Alexander's picture

I've been escorted back to ground level before for taking some really low-key snaps of a model friend in the tube tunnels, just the two of us. They don't like it at all...

Chio Fernandez's picture

It's simple, you need a license to take photos or film in the underground in London. It isn't forbidden, you just need to do it the rugby way.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

A couple of years back I tried to film tube driving through tunnels using a DSLR + Tripod. Pretty soon someone approached me and asked to stop. Welcome to the age of meaningless paranoia.

Chio Fernandez's picture

again, you need a license to film or take photos in London underground. You can apply for it on their website. If you are on your own with just a small camera no one cares, but with models or tripods is another story.

Pink Ninja's picture

I think the paranoia is so justified.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

Oh is it? Because terrorists spy with DSLRs?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

They like cameras. But it is state monopoly to film every step of every citizen. They just don't want competitors on this market.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

Haha, sad but true :(

Chio Fernandez's picture

Some areas of London are protected by licenses. So, unless you are a tourist taking selfies, you need to apply for a license for professional photography or filming in areas near Downing Street, Parliament and other government buildings. Simple.

Simon Patterson's picture

Last week, a policeman in Iran told me I was not permitted to photograph a train. I apologised and he asked to see my passport, which I didn't have because it was back at the hotel. He said "welcome to Iran" with a big friendly smile as we parted ways.

Maybe the UK police need to take some lessons from the Iranians?

Paul Parkinson's picture

The point here is that he wasn't doing anything illegal. He was within his rights to make pictures from public land of a public building. The Police had no reason to stop him doing so and they had no reason to detain him.

Other commenters talk about "secured government sites" and yes, you need permissions to do that (this was not one of those facilities, so the comment is not relevant - although interesting) as you need permission to take pictures from private land (it's common trespass if you don't).

Matt Hall's picture

He could have just answered "I'm photographer taking photos for the local election", that would have been it sorted. Why make things difficult by not answering a simple question?

John Pesina's picture

Because he doesn't have to answer questions if he doesn't want to.

Lee Christiansen's picture

The reality is that he was arrested for doing nothing wrong, with no justifiable or good cause. The officer demanded, (not asked, otherwise there would be no arrest) for documents or proof of ID where there was no requirement to do so and no enforceable action to press the request.

Whether we feel the photographer should or could have given details, there was no legal requirement and this is all that is required to show when questioning an arrest.

Let us now change the photographer to a person of a minority group. Does the officer have the power to arrest when demanding proof of ID that is not required or deemed necessary by law.

The officer in question should be put behind a desk for 6 months and sent back to training.

I'm guessing the photographer stood his ground to see whether the officer would behave appropriately. The officer didn't and this gives rise to a wider concern.

If we allow the police to go about arresting when it is against official policy to do so, (strong guidelines were issued and made national policy by the ACPO back in 2007 not to use Section 43 out of context), then we're back to the bad old days when policing was governed by an officer's prejudices and not the law.

Daniel Caponera's picture

I've been stopped several times by the police. Once for taking pictures of snow covered trees! They wanted to see my images, so I showed them every one...even the ones from my daughter's birthday party. I now carry a copy of the Supreme Court decision allowing us to take pictures.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Did you know that in the UK, the police are not allowed to demand to see images on your card. They would need good reason and suspicion together with a warrant. Even to make a demand can get them into serious trouble without the proper authority beforehand.

David Perry's picture

Er.....if you are going to give information out at least check your facts first. Let me help you...

"Officers have the power to stop and search a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist. The purpose of the stop and search is to discover whether that person has in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are a terrorist.

Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether the images constitute evidence that the person is involved in terrorism. Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence that the person is a terrorist. This includes any mobile telephone or camera containing such evidence.

Officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction"


1) Police don't need a warrant to search a person in the UK. Search powers are granted by legislation. Unless they want copies of images from accredited press. Then they need a production order. Police had to get similar orders to get footage from Sky News, BBC etc after the London riots to help their efforts in arresting the scum that took part. What a wonderful civic minded media we have eh?
2) Police can demand to see the images if exercising their power of search.
3) "Hostile Reconnaissance" is a thing and precedes every terrorist attack ever carried out.
4) An officer is entitled, and expected, to question people. It's their job. Especially after the recent attacks in Europe.
5) He wasn't arrested, he was detained for the purpose of a search. Once the search was carried out he was let on his way. If he had of been arrested he would've been taken to a police station, fingerprinted, questioned etc...
6) Yes, you can take pictures wherever you want. The police weren't stopping him from doing so. They just asked him what he was doing. If a copper saw someone looking in the window of your house they would be asked what they were up to as the primary goal of policing is, first and foremost, the prevention of crime.
7) Failure to provide ID to police in the UK can lead to arrest in certain circumstances but not on this occasion as the photographer wasn't doing anything wrong. But his belligerence lead to the officer becoming suspicious of his behaviour. This suspicion lead to reasonable grounds being formed that he may have been up to no good so he was detained and searched to make sure that he wasn't.

Reasonable grounds to suspect can be defined as a suspicion that could be formed by any reasonable member of the public had they been presented with a similar situation. Have you ever called police to report a suspicious person and wanted them to come and check the person out? Well it's the same thing.

If he just engaged in a simple conversation with the officer he wouldn't have had all of these problems. He got on his high horse and caused himself a lot of grief for no gain.

And just to reiterate again...he wasn't arrested.

Oh and someone mentioned above about getting hassled on the tube...check the news for the last couple of weeks. Someone has just been found guilty for leaving a bomb on a tube train!!

Keep living in your bubbles people!

Brendan Kavanagh's picture

An important point that's not been made clear here is that the person that approached him was, in fact, a civilian administrator, who works for the Police and therefore had no more authority than a passing bus driver might have.
She was not actually a Police officer of any rank or description.
She simply waved an ID card of some kind in front of him and the real Police were only asked to attend when he refused, quite rightly, in my opinion, to co-operate with her.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

So, victim of classical "gatekeeper syndrome"?

Lyndon Hill's picture

He was not doing anything suspicious, by law he was not required to show ID or give his name to anyone, not even the police or civilians who work for the police. Terrorists can easily take photos of public places, draw them, use online maps or just have a very good memory. There is no point trying to keep them secret, it does not make us safer. It seems that the police resorted to citing the Terrorism Act because they couldn't actually justify detaining him for an hour (yes, that's taking an hour of his life). I believe that when using said act the police are required to articulate a reasonable suspicion as grounds for detaining you - I would quite like to know the reason they gave as not showing ID or giving his name is not a good reason.

Dallas Dahms's picture

First observation is that the guy shouldn't have been evasive about giving out his particulars. That's on him. We don't live in a safe world anymore, so refusing to comply is just asking for trouble.

Second observation is that what information exactly is a photograph going to give to terrorists intent on wrecking havoc in a public space? If they want to they can make use of Google street view and see everything they need to see. The authorities need to exercise a little common sense when it comes to photographers in public.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

How showing an ID makes this world safer? Terrorists have no IDs or use their names from Interpol database when they have one?

Dallas Dahms's picture

Um, I think you just answered your own question, yes? Without being able to prove who you are with an ID, you remain suspicious. So, if this guy had just given up his ID at the outset he would not have gone through what has become an article on FS. Maybe he wanted to make a fuss on purpose? Who knows. People are weird.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Yes, I've answered, but the answer is different.

Why should I prove who I am? Are there any reasonable reasons (may I say so?) to suspect me? Then please detain me, without asking for ID.

I photograph in a public place and someone don't like it? Then please, "someone", leave the place.

Dallas Dahms's picture

Some advice: when dealing with law enforcement, don't be a dick.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Don't be a second dick, when you deal with a dick from law enforcement.

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