Section 44 Stop

While I have been in Sipson the last couple months or so I managed to get stopped four times by the police while photographing.  Two time the stops were officers asking me what I was doing.  When I replied, “I’m a photographer.  I’m taking photographs,” the officers let me be and went on their way.  Two other times I was not so fortunate as I was stopped under the dreaded Section 44.

Being from the States I had no idea what Section 44 was compared to Section 43 or 45.  After my first stop some villagers complained on my behalf to the police and the head inspector of Hillingdon borough wrote back to them and me, saying that I need not worry about being stopped again.  He stated that it was not a requirement of mine to submit my details to the officers.  He states that those particular officers would be made to understand law enforcements limitations under a Section 44 stop.

Unfortunately only three weeks after that stop I was stopped yet again.  What follows was my formal complaint to the authorities at Hillingdon Borough:

I would like to lodge a formal complaint about the conduct of police in the area of Sipson, West Drayton. I am a photographer pursuing my Masters degree at the London College of Communication.  As a basis of my mid-term project I opted to photograph the village of Sipson, its inhabitants, and their way of life that is under threat from the governments proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport.  

I have been in the village on many occasions up to three times a week photographing and meeting people.  On a previous occasion I was stopped on February 28, 2009 for a Section 44 stop.  I divulged all of my details and regret that I did so as I have been told by numerous people I do not actually have to do so by law.  When the chief inspector was subsequently pressed on my stop, he apologized and said that I need not worry about it happening again. In the following weeks I have met even more of your police force.  Some meetings have been very brief as they have asked what I have been up to and they have moved on their way.  Other meetings have been protracted, dubious and disconcerting.  I endured one of the latter yesterday at the intersection of Harmondsworth Land and Sipson Road.

At approximately 5:15 PM I had set up my camera to photograph the side of a house and a road sign that proclaimed Sipson Road intersecting said house.  As I waited for a pedestrian to pass through frame, in order to give the photograph a sense of scale, a police van parked in the middle of my shot and the traffic circle at said intersection. The van license plate number was LX54 JCO.  The officers, 776 XH, 453 XH, 910 XH, (there was in fact another officer, making the total four,  in the van whose number I was not given)  came out of the vehicle and approached me and asked what it was I was doing.  I proclaimed that I was taking photographs.  I was asked for what purpose am I taking photographs.  I said that I am a photographer and I am doing my job.  I was then pressed as to what I was taking photographs of exactly.  I told the officers that I am working on a project documenting the village.  

At that I was told that the officers needed my details per Section 44.  Because of my proximity to the airport (1.5 miles away) I was told it was a sensitive area and they had to stop all photographers in the area.  When I replied that I would not divulge my details, that I had done it before, read that it was not required and apologized to for the nature of my previous Section 44 stop, I was told that I was liable for arrest if I continued to withhold my details. At this the encounter took quite a turn.  I, being what I consider an upstanding citizen whom abides by all laws, do not take well to being threatened with arrest.  I find it very disturbing, especially when I am only plying my trade without endangering myself or others.  Considering my options, I asked for the officers details.  I said that if I were to divulge my details I must have all of theirs.  I was told by one of the officers, “It does not work that way, sir.”  I replied, “Yes, yes it does.  If you really want my details then I require that I must have yours.”

At this, one of the other officers wrote down their numbers on a piece of paper and I handed over my California Drivers License.  At this time, there was a large group of patrons from the King William IV pub that made their way outside to witness the goings on.  When a couple of them took pictures of the officers questioning me on their mobile phones, they were told that was an arrest-able offense as well.  At this point it seemed the police would need another van for all of the arrests they were about to make!

I asked the officers how I could prevent these stops from happening as they interrupt my shooting and delay my day by about 20-30 minutes.  They said that I could call into a branch headquarters every day that I wish to shoot in Sipson and let them know there that I will be shooting and then I would not be bothered.  I find this rather amusing as they would still stop and interrupt my day if only to corroborate my story with said headquarters.

When I received my drivers license back,  I went on to our next location to shoot.  That was when Linda McCutcheon questioned the police of their motives.  I stopped and listened to their conversation.  Linda said that she was a member of the Safer Neighborhoods Team and that their actions were counter intuitive to what they should be doing to protect the village.  As they got into their van to drive off, one of the officers proclaimed, “If you ever need a police officer don’t call me.”

I found this final, boorish comment to be obnoxious, arrogant and shocking, especially to an upstanding member of the community like Linda McCutcheon for more than 40 years.I was not afforded any opportunity to be a law abiding citizen from the outset of the encounter.  I was treated like a suspect from the word go and this I find to be detestable.

If you could please get back to me about the outcome of this I would appreciate it.  I would also appreciate being allowed to do my work in the village without interruption from now on.  If this is not possible I would like to know what action I can take to make it so.

Regards

Brett Van Ort

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2 Responses to “Section 44 Stop”

  1. The officer was wrong to state that you can be arrested for filming/taking a picture of them; it is not a criminal offence to do so. Maybe he should pop back to Hendon for a re-fresher course on the law of the land.

  2. Gerry Fox Says:

    Actually you are required to show a police officer your photo’s if required, but they can not make you delete any footage if there is not any suspicion of an illegal wrong doing

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