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Did the police overreact to the Norwich man taking pictures at a shopping centre?

PUBLISHED: 16:56 06 January 2011

Howard Temperley was stopped by security guards and police from taking photographs of Chapelfield Shopping Centre. Howard turns his photos into artwork for Christmas cards and calendars.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Howard Temperley was stopped by security guards and police from taking photographs of Chapelfield Shopping Centre. Howard turns his photos into artwork for Christmas cards and calendars.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

Imagine the shock of a 78-year-old retired professor from Norwich surrounded by police after using his point and shoot camera in Chapelfield on Christmas Eve.

It is a surprising scenario which has provoked a great deal of comment since the Evening News broke the story yesterday. But the days where we photographed without a second thought have long gone. Elsewhere in the country in recent months a father has been threatened with arrest for snapping a school nativity play and a teenager was stopped from taking pictures of an armed forces parade.

But is this suspicious state of mind a justifiable precaution or the nanny state gone mad?

Whether you are filling the family photo album, a professional or amateur artist or even newspaper photographer, sometimes it seems a camera has almost become an offensive weapon.

Traditionally it was the fear of paedophilia which sparked anguish in many parents, but anti-terror laws have stoked this firestorm of suspicion.

We’ve all heard the adverts asking you to shop your neighbour if you see them buying large amounts of fertiliser - now taking a picture of a building can also arouse suspicion.

Evening News photographers have occasionally been challenged while photographing in a public place.

But contrary to popular belief, if you are in a public place, legally they are perfectly within their rights, despite citations of data protection, human rights and child protection.

Norwich lawyer Simon Nicholls puts it plainly: “There is no law in the UK preventing a photographer from taking photographs in a public place.”

And nor should there be, say Campaign group “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist” which believes anti terror laws leave photography under attack.

Mr Temperley said he was merely taking the pictures as a guide to drawing a picture for a Christmas card next year.

Mr Nicholls, who is a director at Belmores solicitors in Norwich, points out that legally Chapelfield is within its rights to stop photographs being taken while on its property.

“There is an argument for saying that if they are taking photographs in a private place then the person who has control of that private place can decide whether or not they can take photographs.”

“But although Chapelfield is a private place, we think of it as a public place”, he said. “Quite why the police got involved I am not sure.”

Norfolk Police defended their actions on Christmas Eve and said they were only responding to concerns raised by local businesses.

Sgt Pete Sharples from the City Centre safer neighbourhood team said: “Officers from Norfolk Constabulary spoke to a gentleman following concerns raised by local businesses in the area. They were satisfied with the explanation given by the individual and the matter was resolved”.

But while fear of terrorism can be one cause for concern, proud parents at the nativity play have also been vilified.

Each year at Christmas stories, hit the headlines that parents have been banned from taking pictures of young Johnny in his starring role as the wise man or Joseph. Last month the Information Commissioner said parents should be free to photograph their children in nativity plays.

While some parents dismiss these restrictions as political correctness gone mad, one Norwich headteacher can sympathise.

Heartsease Primary School headteacher Christina Kenna said they had a policy of sending out letters to all the parents, and if one objected then they would set up a photograph for parents without the children without permission.

“It is a difficult one. But then I suppose you can understand how parents feel and some parents have good reasons for not having their children photographed.

“This is the balance we’ve made and it seems to be working for our school.”

She said that they normally had about 10 children on a register of 400 children whose parents objected to photographs being taken.

But she said there had been no objections to pictures being taken at their nativity play this year.

It is a sad state of play that an innocent man or woman should be made to feel like a terrorist or paedophile.

But in the case of Mr Temperley he said he was “bemused” rather than deeply scarred and concluded that we live in nervous times.

He may be right about that.

As Mr Nicholls points out, “There might just be a 78-year-old retired man who is involved in a terrorist campaign.”

And there are paedophiles who are taking pictures they shouldn’t be.

“If police officers do exercise common sense and they get it wrong, then they will be criticised but we cannot have a protocol or course of action for everything”, adds Mr Nicholls.

So perhaps there is a balance to be struck and this is a small price to pay for our security.

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