‘A camera can be a weapon’
You can be stopped for no reason
LIFE - AND WORK - on the streets remains as perilous as it has been for the past
six years. Police can stop, search and detain anyone, at any time, for no reason, in
areas "designated" by a senior police officer - which almost all of London
is and has been for years. Officers have only to declare that they intend to
search for "articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism".
That's the Valentine's Day message to us all from a London court, which on 14 February rejected a
case brought by London Freelance Branch member Pennie Quinton against the Metropolitan Police.
On 9 September 2003 Pennie Quinton was trying to film protests against the Defence
Systems & Equipment International Exhibition (DSEi) arms fair at the ExCeL centre
in London's docklands. Shortly after arriving in the vicinity of the arms fair,
she found herself on a footpath adjacent to a dual carriageway road blocked by a
police line. As she scrambled toward the road - or "emerged from the bushes"
she was hailed by a detective constable and gestured to a traffic island.
Asking what this was all about, another policewoman told her that protesters held on the
traffic island were being searched, that drugs had been found on one, and that
she'd probably be searched soon. She was - and it was only later that she noticed
that the search ticket said she had been searched under the Prevention of Terrorism
Pennie showed the constable her NUJ press card and indicated the phone number
to confirm her identity using a PIN. This was ignored.
The key legal point is that under the Terrorism Act they can search for "articles of
a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism" at random, without
having to give or have a reason. They may search for drugs, stolen property, offensive
weapons or whatever only if they have "reasonable grounds" for suspecting
that a person is carrying these. So civil rights organisation Liberty supported Pennie
- alongside Kevin Gillan, who was stopped trying to join the demonstration - in bringing
a case against police for unlawful detention.
The case had already been through the High Court and the Court of Appeal to the House
of Lords, seeking a judicial review of the Terrorism Act. In March 2006 Lord Bingham opened
It is an old and cherished tradition of our country that everyone
should be free to go about their business in the streets of the land,
confident that they will not be stopped and searched by the police unless
reasonably suspected of having committed a criminal offence. So
jealously has this tradition been guarded that it has almost become a
Indeed, he went on: "But it is not an absolute rule,"
and the key passage of the ruling is:
[a constable] need have no
suspicion before stopping and searching a member of the public. This
cannot, realistically, be interpreted as a warrant to stop and search
people who are obviously not terrorist suspects, which would be futile
and time-wasting. It is to ensure that a constable is not deterred from
stopping and searching a person whom he does suspect as a potential
terrorist by the fear that he could not show reasonable grounds for his
Nevertheless, Pennie and Kevin then took action against the police. This
meant a civil hearing with a jury of eight, tasked with determining the
facts of the case. The above rather confusing passage from Lord Bingham
generated a great deal of argument over what the police officers could be
asked. In the end His Honour Judge Collins ruled that "the officers cannot
be asked about 'reasonable suspicion'... but they can be questioned on the basis
that they were not looking for articles related to terrorism but for something
else and using the Section 44 powers as a cloak for something else."
In evidence - backed by video of parts of her detention - Pennie said that
she had been detained for over 25 minutes in total. The constable had asked
her to turn her camera off, and the lens cap had been put on, still
recording sound. Noticing this, the constable had seized the camera from
her and turned it off.
In a statement, the constable said that she had done this "because
a camera can be used as a weapon". In court, the constable responded to
all questions by saying she could not recall anything at all about the events.
She had entered "POTA" on the search ticket, therefore she must have stopped
Pennie legitimately under the Terrorism Act.
After two full days of argument and evidence, the jury deliberated for two
hours. They found for the Metropolitan Police on all eight questions put
Pennie, with Liberty, is now considering an appeal of this judgement. The
Freelance understands that they intend to go to the European
Court of Human Rights once they have finally exhausted the legal process
in the UK.