Britain's number one terrorist
By christophersaul on Mar 01, 2009
We paid my mother a surprise visit last week for her 70th birthday. Mrs Saul spent the weekend in Richmond and I stayed on for the week - one of the beauties of Sun and my job in particular being that I can work from anywhere. I'd planned to be at home in Dubai that week after back to back travelling, so being in London worked fine as well.
What I hadn't realised was that since last seeing my father he had become Britain's number one terrorist. Well, I exaggerate a little, but he did show me a slip of paper given to him after he had been stopped by some Special Constables whilst out and about taking some photos for his blog and the book he is working on.
Whilst taking some pictures of a house in Richmond he'd been stopped and questioned under a recent anti-terrorism act.
It's hard not to slip into a 'what's Britain coming to' blog tirade about things like this, but I will do my best not to.
I fully understand that the world is different today, that there are threats out there and that they have to be dealt with. What I can't understand is why we have to have legislation like this that intrudes upon and upsets perfectly honest people who are doing nothing wrong at all.
I simply don't think it's necessary to approach someone taking photographs and question them. I'm sure the two lady Special Constables in question weren't aggressive or rude, but I got the feeling from my father that they could have handled the situation better. He was upset by the incident and he shouldn't have been put in that position.
Do we really need a special act to empower the police to stop people in this way? Would a friendly word from a passing policemen not have been enough? Do we need Special Constables to actively stop and question people in the first place? Do these laws simply end up harassing normal people whilst failing to identify those who are actually intent on doing the country harm?
I also understand that you have to be reasonably even-handed. You can't simply target bearded gentlemen in traditional dress carrying point-and-shoot digital snappers whilst ignoring white Englishmen wearing casual weekend clothes holding a pricey Olympus with a telephoto lense. The heart of the matter is whether you really need to question people doing this kind of thing at all? Would people staking out an area for a terrorist attack do so in broad daylight? Even if they did, do you need a special law to have a word with them, turning the incident into a formal episode, when a quick chat and discretionary follow up would do?
When things like this happen, I can't help feel that those people who wish the UK ill have actually won.
During my visit to London I was also struck by the number of signs on buses, trains and public areas telling us what we can and can't do. One new law in particular struck me as odd - the banning of alcohol on public transport. I commented on this when it was being floated by Boris Johnson, but hadn't seen the 'results' of it being made law, in the shape of large warnings on buses and in the Tube.
Noone wants to sit on a bus full of drunken boozers sipping out of 3 litre bottles of White Lightning, but were there not laws in place already that deal with anti-social behaviour of one kind or another? I have no particular need or desire to drink on public transport, but never noticed it being a problem in the past. If it was, I'm sure it was dealt with by the police under their existing powers at the time.
I was left with the impression that we were all being told, very specifically, what we can and can't do, when those things were rather obvious anyway, with existing, appropriate legislation already in place for when people stepped over the line. Maybe that's needed in a society that's made up of people who are recent arrivals and need to be guided, but Britain - and London in particular - have had waves of immigration for many years without any particular issues that require specific new legislation.
The reaction to current problems seems to be akin to that of sticking speed cameras up everywhere. Perfectly law abiding motorists get fined via CCTV for minor transgressions that cause no harm, or thanks to being caught on camera doing 33 in a 30 zone, whilst those who really cause havoc simply carry on as before.
I remember visiting Richmond Police Station in 2001 to present my licence after receiving a speeding fine for a situation which, had a real member of the traffic police been present, would never have ended up with me getting three points added and 80 quid taken off me. When I left the police station, someone was smoking a joint at the bus stop ten metres away. Maybe there should have been a sign on the bus shelter reminding people that illegal drugs were illegal.
When you see this kind of law breaking on a regular occurrence, it's infuriating to hear of your old dad being stopped and questioned for taking some photos of the town he's lived in for so many years.
This blog post from Bystander about new legislation sums up the situation very well.