Archive for August 13th, 2008

Camera latest terror weapon!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Tram and bus photographer Rob McCaffrey
forced to hang up his camera, photo “Daily Mail’

(click to see original photo in and read ‘Daily Mail’ article)

The 1960s were frustrating years for railway buffs in Poland. The railways were part of the Warsaw Pact’s defences against a supposedly imminent attack by the USA and its capitalist allies. Photography of railways, trains and bridges was strictly forbidden. The official photographer of the National Railway museum in Warsaw spent a night in jail while the local police checked out his credentials. A climate of fear ruled. In 1965 the shed master at Szczecin Dabie offered to haul out an ancient 19th century Tkh for me to photograph on the shed turntable, but while thanking him profusely I politely refused his offer. Today I now very much regret not saying yes. What price the risk of a night in jail, for the unique photograph that I might have had?

In 1989 came the historic ‘Round Table’ compromise between Poland’s communist rulers and the Solidarity Trade Union. There was an interim period when the communists and Solidarity ruled the country together. Then on December 9, Lech Walesa became President in Poland’s first free elections since WW II. The transition period had many strange anomalies, for instance General Kiszczak, who had been Head of Military Intelligence during the communist era, then General Jaruzelski’s right hand man during Poland’s year’s under martial law, then briefly Prime Minister, continued in the post of Minister of Home Affairs until 6 July 1990.

All this political background to explain that Poland never had a ‘clean break’ with its communist past. When I took my first standard gauge railway photograph in December 1990, a level crossing keeper ran out and threatened to call the police, my travelling companion shouted back at him that if he was so afraid he should to run back to his mother as the communists were no longer in charge of the country! These days photography is an accepted part of the Polish railway scene particular along the lines operated by the scheduled passenger services hauled by steam locomotives sheded at Wolsztyn.

So it was with considerable amazement that I read the Daily Mail article about the harassment suffered by bus, coach and tram photographer, Rob McCaffrey. After amassing 30,000 photos over 40 years as a bus spotter he is going to hang up his camera because he is fed up with being labelled a paedophile or a terrorist.

‚ÄúSince the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown on security and it seems everyone with a camera is a potential criminal.” Rob explained. “The past two years have absolutely been the worst, I have had the most appalling abuse from the public, drivers and police over-exercising their authority.”

Rob has travelled all over Europe and to former Iron Curtain countries, but the only time he has ever had any trouble is in the UK. His first brush with the long arm of the law was in Pontypridd, last September. A bus driver took exception to being snapped and called the police, who demanded to see what he had on his camera. In a second incident in Monmouth saw a PCSO approached Rob and ran his name and address through police computers after a member of the public complained he had been acting strangely.

It is not illegal to take photos in a public place, but under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police officers may randomly stop someone without reasonable suspicion, if the area is a likely target for an attack. Railway enthusiasts, amateur photographers and even photo journalists, have been stopped and threatened since the passing of the Act.

Amateur photographer, Austin Mitchell, MP, has tabled an early day motion in the Commons calling on the Home Office and police to educate officers about photographers’ rights after being stopped twice himself.

British railway enthusiasts who have been challenged by police or security staff, or who feel strongly about the issue, might wish to write to their MP.

Useful links:

British Journal of Photography – restrictions on photography – Re. railway photography – Your MP