Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The legacy of 7/7


Today marks five years since London was hit by a devastating series attacks by suicide bombers [Wikipedia]. Fifty two people died and more than 800 were injured, but there is no official memorial to this solemn date in modern British history. In contrast to America which has marked 9/11 very prominently with television coverage every year since, Britain is markedly silent. The terrorist attacks shocked London and the rest of the country. There are few people that won't remember the moment where they were when the news filtered through. The blasts on the London subway shut many stations for weeks and the fear of further attacks resulted in many commuters making alternative travel arrangements. Security was increased and passengers carrying bags were routinely stopped and searched. There was increased concern after failed terror attacks on the 21st July and there have been several plots and failed attacks since.


Media coverage

News channels were today focused on the continuing manhunt for gunman and killer Raoul Moat. Headlines on Sky News topped with the manhunt followed by a British troop pullout from Sangin in Afghanistan and the jailing of Lindsey Lohan for 90 days after breaking probation rules. BBC News 24 also led with the manhunt and Sangin but also covered the London bombing. In early bulletins the BBC gave over 8 minutes to the manhunt with Sky stretching into more than 15 minutes.

Afghanistan took up 3 minutes on the BBC followed by a story concerning the rights of homosexual asylum seekers. After returning to Afghanistan for a further 5 minutes and a recap of the main headlines the news channel moved onto a report about public sector pensions. also took up around 3 minutes of air time. Sky also covered Afghanistan but less than 2 minutes was given to the continuing conflict. Even Paul the octopus, which 'predicts' Germany will lose against Spain, took precedent to any reference to the annniversary of the 7/7 terror attacks [BBC].

Finally at 10:40 the BBC refers to an article in The Times written by Andy Hayman, the former assistant commissioner who led the 7/7 investigation. He warns that Britain remains "under severe risk" from terror attacks. "There are now probably more radicalised Muslims, their attack plans are more adventurous and the UK still remains under severe risk," Hayman said. While the story is perhaps a wake up call, a technical glitch sent the report to the digital grave.

Compared to the television news, the newspapers were a little more focused on the War on Terror. While this phrase has fallen way to become the 'terror threat', it is clear that the situation is markedly different from that faced by Britain a decade ago. Today's newspapers attempt to make a connection between the military retreat from Sangin, David Cameron's announcement of an inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture [BBC], and rising concerns of the terror threat [Herald Sun].

According to reports terror suspects are often aware of the likelihood that they are being watched or listened to. Many routinely practice counter-surveillance techniques and are aware of the high level of protection given to prominent targets. Some groups are said to be discussing plans to copy the attacks that took place in Mumbai in 2008 during which heavily-armed men attacked a hotel, a railway station and a synagogue in a commando-style raid. In response, the British authorities are believed to be drawing up plans for how they might counter such an attack.

BBC London are reflecting on the legacy of the 7/7 attacks. A documentary planned for Sunday will look at how the bombings changed London and the Vanessa show also fielded calls on how people feel five years on, though the discussion soon gave way to other subjects. There were some quiet commemorations of the attacks in London's Hyde Park where a monument was unveiled last year [BBC]. A one-minute silence was observed and a wreath was laid in the name of Prime Minister David Cameron, but he himself did not attend the service.

For most people life has changed little since 7/7, for others the attacks have brought unsettling experiences. For the survivors many still suffer the nightmares while others struggle to come to terms with the horror that took loved ones from them. Some have had to endure repeated plastic surgery such as Davinia Turrell who was horribly burnt [BBC]. Many papers focus on her plight and her struggle to come to terms with her injuries. "I went from being convinced that I would be seriously scarred for life and that my life would be ruined, to being hopeful that the medics who were looking after me would be able to put me back together as I had been before." Today Davinia can smile for the first time in years, but for many the mental scars remain. Thelma Stober, who was caught up in the events of 7th July, is still traumatised and says she cannot travel on the London Underground.

Anti-terror powers

There is increasing concern that police are over using the Terrorism Act to target certain groups and individuals. Security at subway stations diminished within weeks of the 2005 attacks. But photographers, both amateur and professional, have been subject to overzealous stop & searches.

One week after 7/7, tvnewswatch was stopped by a PCSO after "being seen with a camera" at a London subway station. Given the heightened security alert, it was perhaps to be expected. A van load of police arrived within minutes to check laptop and camera bags. The presentation of a press card failed to allay their suspicions and after being detained for twenty minutes, the officers issued a notice and one was free to go.

Five years on, despite protests that photographers were being unfairly targeted, members of the public taking pictures are still being stopped. As Britain paid tribute to servicemen during Armed Forces Day one photographer was subjected to what has been described as a heavy-handed approach by the Metropolitan Police. Freelance photographer Jules Mattsson, 16, was threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act as he took pictures of cadets preparing to take part in a parade in Romford, east London.

An officer approached Mattsson and told him to stop taking photographs. Insisting there were no restrictions on taking photographs in a public place there follows a nine-minute stand-off between Mattsson and police. Police initially approached Mattsson claiming he had been "taking images of children" and demanded he desist in photographing. In telling them that there was no law concerning the taking of pictures in a public place, Mattsson was asked for his details, something he refused to give saying that he wished to know the reason behind his being stopped. The officer responds saying, "I don't have to have any law to take your details. You have been identified taking pictures of the cadets and you can't be doing that unless they've given you permission." The discussion becomes more heated as Mattsson insists he has a right to take pictures in a public place.

A senior officer steps into the fray and suggests that Mattsson is a "hazard to the public". Inspector John Fisher then tells Mattsson, "Young man you are an agitator" and after further further protestations from the young photographer Inspector Fisher tells him to move on saying he was causing a breach of the peace. Inspector Fisher's patience finally gives way. "You know what, I consider you a threat under the terrorism act," he tells Mattsson. The photographer was then held until after the parade, though no charges were made [YouTube / Jules Mattsson blog].

Jules Mattsson said he had not only been bullied but also assaulted. "You can't see it but when they were telling me I was obstructing the parade I was actually up against the wall - I wasn't obstructing anything," he said, "When I was pushed down the steps I went into the railing at an angle and twisted my back." A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said they had no information on the incident but added that police officers should not stop amateur or professional photographers from capturing images in a public place.

Police guidelines

Police guidelines state that "Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel." Furthermore the Metropolitan Police websites says "The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place." However it does say that "Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, provided that the viewing is to determine whether the images contained in the camera or mobile telephone are of a kind, which could be used in connection with terrorism. Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects is intended to be used in connection with terrorism." However it makes clear that "officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction."

Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 covers the offence of eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of the armed forces, intelligence services or police where the information is, by its very nature, designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. But even here any officer making an arrest for an offence under Section 58A must be able to demonstrate a reasonable suspicion that the information was, by its very nature, designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

"It would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests because there would not normally be grounds for suspecting that the photographs were being taken to provide assistance to a terrorist. An arrest would only be lawful if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism," the guidelines state.

Members of the media can, like any other person, be stopped and searched under s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They may also be stopped and searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if an officer reasonably suspects that they are a terrorist. However, guidelines state that where it is clear that the person being searched is a journalist, officers should exercise caution before viewing images as images acquired or created for the purposes of journalism may constitute journalistic material and should NOT be viewed without a Court Order. In addition the police guidelines acknowledge that "the media influences our reputation so it's crucial to maintain good working relations with its members, even in difficult circumstances."

The incident in Romford came just 24 hours after the the Metropolitan Police was forced to pay compensation to two photojournalists for a similar incident. Marc Vallee and Jason Parkinson took civil action against the police after they had their camera equipment grabbed by officers in December 2008 while reporting on a protest outside the Greek Embassy.

In a public apology the Metropolitan Police admitted that its officers had "failed to respect press freedom" of the two journalists and agreed to pay them each £3,500 plus legal costs. Police forces across the country were told to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers after The Independent ran a campaign last year highlighting how legislation was being regularly misused. But groups representing photographers say the message is often struggling to get through to some front line officers [Independent / BJP / Romford Recorder].

Continued threat

Britain undoubtedly faces a terrorist threat. That threat comes from those connected to al Qaeda and its affiliates. It also comes from the likes of the Real IRA. Yesterday the Queen spoke at the United Nations and referred to the ongoing challenges of tackling the terrorist threat throughout the world. She also paid her tribute to the victims of America's worst terrorist attack which left more than 3,000 dead [BBC]. While the threat from terrorism is real and efforts to thwart terror plots must continue, many are concerned that freedoms are being eroded. There is also some concern that the the victims of terror are being forgotten. The muted coverage of today's anniversary of the 7/7 bombings is a case in point.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

3 comments:

julesmattsson said...

Hi,

I see you've used a modified version of my image along with mentioning the Romford incident within your article, thanks :) Although i'd appreciate if you ask me beforehand in the future with regard to images being used. Also, if you will use my images byline 'photo Jules Mattsson' with a link to my blog at julesmattsson.wordpress.com that'd be great :)

Thanks,
Jules.

Newsjunky said...

Credit added - apologies for omission

julesmattsson said...

Thanks very much :) Good article.