Officer should not have deleted amateur photographer’s pictures

Published Date: 09.12.2013

A police officer has been disciplined after deleting photos from a camera belonging to an amateur photographer who had taken a picture of an officer at a filling station forecourt.

The photographer was challenged when police noticed him taking a picture as an officer was putting fuel into a police car.

The photographer told Police Ombudsman investigators that an officer asked him to delete the image on the basis that it could be “of use to terrorists.”

When the photographer queried this, he said his camera was taken from him and all the pictures deleted from its memory card.
The photographer said he then asked for a written record that the pictures had been deleted, at which point he was invited to go to the local police station to address the matter.

At the station, he said he was told the memory card would be seized and sent for analysis, and a file would then be sent to the Public Prosecution Service to consider a possible prosecution for being in possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists.

About three weeks later, the photographer said he received a call to say that he could collect his memory card from the police station. He was then told that there would be no prosecution.

The photographer subsequently lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office alleging that his pictures had been unlawfully deleted, and that an officer had been “uncivil” towards him. He also believed his photographs should have been restored to the memory card once police were satisfied that he had committed no offence.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigation established that anti-terrorist legislation did not provide police with the legal power to delete photographs at the scene of an incident.

A recommendation was then made to the PSNI that the officer should be informally disciplined for deleting the pictures. The PSNI has since acted on that recommendation.

However, in the absence of independent witnesses or relevant CCTV footage of the incident, the Police Ombudsman’s investigation found that there was insufficient evidence of police incivility to support any further disciplinary action.

It also concluded that the police photography unit which analysed the memory card would not have been responsible for restoring the deleted images before returning the card to the complainant.

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