A police state



A still from a 1950 Polish newsreel. The announcer says, This is the Moscow Metro, the best and most modern in the whole world. Warsaw is to have 3 metro lines with a total length of 36 km open by 1965. Seven years later all construction work was stopped and the censors forbade newspaper and magazine editors to allow any mention of the Metro in their publications.

(Click to see the rest of the newsreel clip, Polish commentary)

It seems a lifetime ago that Poland was a police state. A policeman was someone who could beat you up with impunity and who would receive no official sanction if he shot you if you attempted to run away. An elite network called the nomenklatura controlled everything including the communist party. The party controlled what happened in the Polish Parliament and what could be printed in the newspapers. There was an opposition of sorts, but its activities were controlled too.

The culture was about control. A climate of fear and watching your back prevailed. Everything – that was not specifically permitted in some law or regulation – was forbidden. Information only flowed one way – from the top. Without an effective feedback channel – criticism could get you sacked or worse – projects over ran budgets and time-scales, bad decisions were followed by even worse corrective action. Corruption and nepotism were endemic.

Britain with its tolerance of eccentrics, friendly bobbies, brilliant BBC, London Times Manchester Guardian and ‘my word is my bond’ culture was a beacon of civilisation. How things have changed in less than half a century! I’m indebted to Railway Eye for drawing my attention to this story.

Edmund Tan, a retired accountant with a collection of 200 model trains, was told he needed permission to take pictures at Macclesfield station, Cheshire. Virgin Trains says the ban is because of “security concerns”, which includes fears about possible terrorist attacks.

Mr Tan was approached by a member of station staff, who insisted he switch off his video camera to. Footage shows the confrontation, and ends with him pleading: “But I’m a trainspotter.” He asked if he could have permission but was told no.


If you feel as strongly as I do about the incident do post a comment on Richard Branson’s blog. A brief e-mail to Lord Adonis would do no harm either.


7 Responses to “A police state”

  1. Michael Dembinski Says:

    I’d care strongly if this fascist nonsense were happening in Poland. I left England 12 years ago, Poland is my fatherland; what happens on the Miserable Grey Little Island is best sorted by the people who live there.

    57 people died in the terrorist outrage on 7 July 2005. If you were in the United Kingdom that day your chances of being killed were one in a million. 1,350 days have elapsed since that heinous attack. No one has died in a mainland terrorist attack since. The chances of the average Brit being killed in a terrorist attack have fallen to less than one in a billion.

    One in a billion. And yet the price for that is a wholesale destruction of civil liberties such as the right to photograph a train or a station.

    That is too great a price to pay.

    Let the security services focus on Islamic extremists, infiltrating their cells, tapping their phones, intercepting their e-mails. They know who they are. And leave retired accountants and children doing school projects in peace.

    “I no longer recognise the land where I was born.”

  2. White Horse Pilgrim Says:

    I have had professional dealings with the British Transport Police concerning security on railway stations. It was clear enough that they were not gifted with great intellect, indeed beating up vagrants was more up their street than any form of sophisticated operation. We knew, as railway workers, that if we blew the whistle on police brutality, they would not help us if we became victims of crime.

    The current security threat is caused by islamic extremists. Living in Britain, I would say that it is pretty clear that “islamic terrorists” do not resemble “white male trainspotters”, indeed the two ought to be hard to confuse.

    Meanwhile every on-train announcement now seems to contain a warning “to report suspicious people and objects”, doing nothing so much as create a state of paranoia that the so-called security services feed off. And when the police do act, what happens? An innocent Brazillian is shot to death by police thugs who did not even carry a photograph of their target! Even the old Communist police would have done a better job!

    The July Bombers did not photograph any station. Of course they visited the scene of their evil attack, however they didn’t hang around and take train numbers. They did not need to.

    Working in the railway industry, I am ashamed of the way that railway police and staff (even staff of the greedy “bus bandits”) treat enthusiasts who, by definition, are on the railway’s side.

    • dyspozytor Says:

      A dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon

      S. And now, let me show you in a parable how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Just imagine! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

      G. I see.

      S. And now imagine men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

      G. You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

      S. Like ourselves, and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

      G. True, how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

      S. And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

      G. Yes.

      S. And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

      G. Very true.

      S. And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

      G. No question.

      S. To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of
      the images.

      G. That is certain.


            The Republic, Plato

      A video version

            The Simile of the Cave on You Tube

      • Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells Says:

        There is a spirit of protectionism abroad in these troubled times – of intellectual protectionism. As the frailties of an economic system built upon unrestrained greed and speculation become clear, as it becomes more and more obvious that recent Western invasions of Muslim lands are a drive to corner key areas for access to increasingly scarce hydrocarbons, and as the spectre of climate change looms over everything that was viewed as “Progress”, governments are desperate to control the narrative their population hears.


  3. Phil Says:

    This has been happing for some time. “Terrorist concerns” are a catch all term that gets used like “Health and Safety” by idiots who want to stop something without a good reason. Anyone can challenge this but will need to be pretty bolshie to do so.

    Mind you, I once walked to the end of a platform and was told to get back as I was blocking the signal – 5 feet above my head !

    Quite a few stories have emerged of policemen trying to confiscate cameras from all sorts of people, something that have no legal right to do. Sadly it’s not happened to me yet, when it does I hope I have the time to refuse and insist on being taken to the station. Watch my appearance at the nearest BBC office claiming to have been beaten up in custody when I do.

    PS: Wanted to say great post!

  4. John Ball Says:

    Britain is rapidly becoming a petty authoritarian country where we are afraid of our own shadow. The police are an object of contempt as far as I am concerned, but they always have tended to throw their weight around with people who look easy to push around. Nowadays, as exemplified by Brown’s pusilanimous stance on the matter of railway photography, the state is behind their behaviour.

    Governments have an easier time when people are persuaded to be afraid; the British have meekly given up their civil liberties in many ways because of slogans like ‘war on terror’, ‘elfansafety’ etc.

  5. White Horse Pilgrim Says:

    I’ve just heard of an incident where Police detained a group of Network Rail track maintenence staff (who were on their way to respond to a points failure) as “potential terrorists” because (like any track workers) they carried detonators to use on the line in case a driver needs to be warned in emergency.

    The lunatics are running the asylum!

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