Sunday, 1 November 2009

Met Police caught out by The Firm.

Worrying news this past week, involving - on the face of it - deep embarrassment to the Met Police, but beneath that, an apparent deliberate flouting of the conventions governing police access to TV news footage.

The Met circulated 66 photos of supposed football hooligans from the recent trouble at the West Ham v Millwall match, only to realise belatedly and to their horror that the pictures included images from the recent Brit movie "The Firm".

Cue lots of jokes about hapless 'Knacker of the Yard', and a Yard spokesman putting it down to "a bad day at the office". But now the laughter has subsided, how exactly did this fiasco happen?

It seems that many of the 66 pictures had not come from CCTV or police camera operators. Instead, they had been taken - without permission or consultation - from a television news report which had made a comparison between the real and fictional images of violence. The Met was caught out because they had watched the news report with the sound turned off, so the person gleefully copying it was unable to hear the clear distinction made.

But what is most worrying is that the Met felt it acceptable to lift the news footage without asking for it through conventional routes. That deceit seems to deliberately flout a court ruling from 1999, where the City Of London Police were rebuffed in their attempt to get access to TV footage of anti-capitalist protests. The judge in that case refused the police demand, and agreed with the media that if the footage was handed over, the media might be seen as 'agents of the state' and attacked by demonstrators at other events in the future.

That ruling doesn't seem to have stopped the Met. Rather than risk a refusal, or another court case, the Met seems to have just bypassed the whole principle of legal access, and taken the footage regardless. The Met was caught out this time, but it begs the question: how many other times have police 'stolen' footage without permission or credit?