In May of this year, Louis Berk, a teacher from north London, was angrily confronted by security guards while taking pictures near the 2012 Olympic site in Stratford. ‘None of them bothered to show ID,’ he complains. ‘Three of them were dressed in yellow T-shirts with walkie-talkies while a fourth was dressed in black from head to toe like someone out of the SAS. It was all a bit over the top.’ Berk and a friend protested that they had not been taking pictures of the site, but the guards demanded to see their cameras in order to check.
‘They were very aggressive,’ he says. ‘They wanted our ID and our cameras. When I pointed out that we were on a public path and they were out of their jurisdiction they said “You must be a professional if you know all the rules!” Eventually, Berk succumbed to their demands. ‘I got nervous because there were four of them and two of us, and if it turned nasty it would have been their word against ours,’ he says. ‘I was offended by the way they treated us. We are a couple of respectable-looking middle-aged men. We didn’t swear or shout throughout the incident but they were rude and aggressive towards us. I shouldn’t have showed them the pictures but I was intimidated into it.’ The Olympic Delivery Authority have since apologised to Mr Berk and conducted a review of the incident in a bid to avoid any sort of repeat.
It’s unlikely that Louis Berk was the victim of an elaborate conspiracy on behalf of an authoritarian state. It’s more probable that he, like Graham Rigg, Phil Smith, Stephen Carroll and John Kelly, was the victim of overblown jobsworths making the most of the authority they had been granted. But that, in itself, is a growing and troubling trend.
‘Arbitrarily searching tourists and photographers in central London is not going to uncover a terrorist plot, but it will intimidate and upset innocent people,’ points out Alex Gask from the pressure group Liberty.
The need for heightened security in public places appears to have spawned an unsavoury form of legitimised bullying and fear – and at the moment it’s the humble weekend snapper who is bearing the brunt. ‘I am sympathetic to the need for greater vigilance these days,’ says Louis Berk. ‘But singling out amateur photographers seems a bit unfair. To be honest, most of us are just sad anoraks who are no threat to anyone!’
Different country, same problem.