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Monday 9 July 2007 3.22pm
An incident I witnessed in SE1 (the Lambeth part) this weekend:

Three PCSOs were detaining a man by force - two of them were sitting on him, the other was radioing for assistance.

A tourist walks past, pulls out his camera and takes a photo of this scene.

One of the PCSOs calls the tourist over, demands that he hands over his camera, looks at the pictures and (apparently - I can't verify this bit, but it looked that way) deletes the image.

A police van then arrives and police offers take over the incident.

Leaving aside the inappropriateness of the tourist taking a picture of this sort of incident, it seems to me that the PCSO had no right to demand this man's camera and much less to delete images.

Looking at this list of powers seems to confirm this view:

I can understand annoyance at having their photo taken, but assuming that the PCSOs were acting entirely properly in detaining this man, what do they have to fear from an image?

I have no objection to PCSOs in principle, but it seems to me important that they should not exceed their (limited) powers.

Before I write to the Met, I'd be interested in the thoughts of any of the legal experts who frequent this forum.

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Monday 9 July 2007 5.01pm
James, not sure i would call myself an expert on criminal law, but I'm certainly not aware of any powers for regular or community police to delete an ordinary photo, much less a photo that (based on your description) might be evidence used to support a complaint. On the contrary, part of a CSO's role is to preserve evidence and there are specific exemptions built into PACE to limit the circumstances in which journalistic material can be seized by the Police.

However, there are certain circumstances where I can understand why the constable might have checked the image, particularly to see if the person being restrained was clearly identifiable in the photo. It might be a breach of that person's right to privacy under the ECHR and/or prevent a fair trial of that person (in the event that his identity was widely reported).

However, there is a good argument that the second of these issues can only arise from the time when someone is charged with an offence, not when he is arrested.

Finally, there are certain exceptions where national security issues are involved, but unless he was a suspected terrorist, that seems to me unlikely to apply.

So, checking the image I can understand. Requesting that the photographer delete it or confirm that it will not be used to publicise the arrest - I could perhaps accept if it were done on a voluntary basis.

Just deleting it, if that's what happened, seems to me to fall entirely outside the bounds of police powers without some kind of court order.
Tuesday 10 July 2007 7.17pm
Hi James,

Any photograph taken by an individual remains the property of that individual. Neither a police office or a PCSO has the right to check the image without a warrant.

If they had good reason to belive that a photograph was material evidence of a crime they could detain the individual and apply for a warrant or a court order, which they would need to view or confiscate the image/camera. There may be exceptions in terrorism cases, but as mentioned above, that clearly does not apply here.

Neither a police officer or a PCSO has the right to delete or in any other way tamper with a photograph that not belong to them.

This is a clear abuse of authority, and is a straight forward case of bullying.

Good for you for challenging this behaviour.
Tuesday 10 July 2007 8.12pm
mickyBoy_se1 wrote:
Any photograph taken by an individual remains the property of that individual. Neither a police office or a PCSO has the right to check the image without a warrant.

Mickey, I agree with all of your post, except the bit quoted above. Whilst it's certainly not an area I know a huge amount about, I think there is plenty of scope in the existing law for a police officer (although not necessarily a PCSO) to "check" an image on someone's camera in certain circumstances, but not to delete it.

For example, Part 1 of PACE empowers any constable (not PCSO) acting with reasonable grounds for suspicion to stop, detain and search you or your vehicle, or anything in or on your vehicle, and certain items if found, may be seized. There's similar powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and these are supplemented by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (see in particular s51).

However, I certainly agree that they have to have reasonable grounds to believe either that the evidence is property obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence (i.e. material evidence) or that it is necessary for the photo to be retained in order to prevent its being "concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed" in order to seize it.

On James' description, however, neither of these apply here.

What makes it even less likely that this was a proper action is that, as I understand it, PCSO's don't have the full powers of stop and search that the police do. They have to be acting under some specific power, such as anti-terrorism legislation.

I agree that it seems worth reporting.
Monday 16 July 2007 12.34pm
The situation as described is quite frankly bizarre. Firstly, it's unusual to see PCSO act in a physical manner full stop. As with everything in this country there is however no single standard for the limits that are placed on their as Police Staff. Broadly speaking however they have the right to details for 30mins, but on in the event that they see an offence.. they cannot act on suspicion as they have no Police Powers... they only have "any person" powers and are instructed to use them in a specific manner, risk of injury etc.

As for the photograph and it's subsequent deletion that's totally unacceptable... I wouldn't bother complaining however unless you have the PCSO's shoulder number as the MET are unlikely to entertain your complaint otherwise.. furthermore you're not the injured party, in the sense that he didn't act against you (tell you to delete the picture).

Having said that if he's the sort of fool that's likely to let his 'Limited' position go to his head then it might be as well to warn them!
Monday 16 July 2007 4.44pm
Far more interesting(???), IMVHO, is what they thought they were doing when they deleted the image. It's not that easy to delete a file held in memory. I am no computer expert, but my understanding is that generally instead of deleting the file itself, a computer is only in the habit of making the file invisible. Only when the memory is formatted, or otherwise filled up by new data, does the detail of the original file disappear.

The only safe way to delete a file that has been saved is by incineration.
Monday 16 July 2007 5.53pm
Since when did PCs or PCSOs ever pay any attention to what's legal or right? This sounds like perfectly normal bad behaviour to me.
Tuesday 17 July 2007 11.47am
It seems the PCSOs acted illegally and it may be worth bringing this up with the Community Police for the area as they work closely with a lot of the PCSO's.

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