Treated Like a Terrorist When Filming: A Case Study
Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 the police now have the right to stop and search anyone within a specified area. There have been frequent reports of police abusing this new power as this case study shows.
Filming In the Streets of LondonIn November 2009, Italian art student Simona Bonomo, 32, was filming architecture in Paddington, London. “I had always used buildings and modern architecture as part of my art.” said Simona. At the time of her filming Simona was working on an art project on CCTV and surveillance and was taking general views of buildings. Simona was filming when two police community support officers arrived and began questioning her. What started out as seemingly casual questioning by the police ended in Simona being arrested.
Police Questioning Under the Terrorism ActThe police began by asking why Simona was filming the buildings and if there was any particular reason. Simona told the police officers that she thought the buildings were beautiful and she was just filming for fun. It was at this point one of the police officers replied, “So you are basically filming for fun? I don’t believe you.” The police officer asked to see Simona’s film and when she refused he claimed that, “If I think the film is linked to terrorism I have the right to view it.”
Further questioning from the police officer followed and Simona explained that she was an art student with an interest in buildings. The officer asked for proof that she was an art student and asked for identification. Simona, who was studying art at London Metropolitan University was not carrying identification on that particular day.
Arrested By Six Police OfficersThe police officer who was questioning Simona then informed her that he had witnessed her cycling down a one way street. He took Simona’s name and address and then left with the officer. Shortly after this the two community police officers returned with four more police officers. “The first officer pushed me to the ground to handcuffed me and then I soon had all of the police officers on top of me,” Simona said. “They then twisted my arm giving me pain and pushed me into a van.”
Detained In Police Custody For Five HoursSimona was held in a police cell for five hours and was then released with an £80 fixed penalty fine. The reason stated on the fixed penalty was that Simona had caused harassment, alarm and distress in a public place. The day after her arrest Simona went back to where she had been filming and spoke to builders who had witnessed the arrest. The builders said that the arrest was disgusting and that Simona had not caused any alarm or distress and that the harassment was caused by the police not Simona.
Justification for Stop and Search Under the Terrorism ActAccording to recent media reports the police are arresting people without reasonable grounds. This is especially true of photographers who are photographing and videotaping the police. Under section 58A of the Terrorism Act, photographing a police officer could be classed as a potential offence. But, as in cases such as Simona Bonomo, police are arresting people who do not fit any terrorist profile or giving just cause for stop and search.
Controversy Over the Section 44 Terrorism ActThe power to stop and search under the Terrorism Act is permitted if there is evidence of a terrorist threat. Statistics by the Ministry of Justice show that the use of this power has increased threefold but less than 0.1% have been arrested for terrorist offences. Statistics have also shown that black and Asian members of the public are four times more likely to be stopped than white people. This type of abuse is responsible for the deterioration of public trust in the police force.
As Simona Bonomo’s arrest shows, abuse of the power by the police to stop members of the public under the Terrorism Act is occurring. The human rights and civil liberties organisation Liberty are campaigning to have the Terrorism Act amended. Members of the public who think they have been wrongly stopped, arrested and detained can complete an online monitoring form that is available at the Liberty website.