Picture the scene… you are sat in a café having lunch with your family. A man sits quietly down at your table and asks if you know the man directly behind you as he appears to be taking pictures of one of your children. You don’t, and it turns out he was. But what happens next?
What I did:
- Got up and asked him: “Have you been taking pictures of my daughter?”
- Picked up the camera before he had a chance to answer.
- Listened to what he had to say, while I scrolled through his pictures (and found three close-ups of my youngest child): “She was taking a big bite out of her banana and looked so cute,” he remarks.
- Told him he should have asked permission before taking pictures of someone else’s child.
- Deleted the pictures.
- Ignored him when he asked me how old she was and gave him a disapproving look.
- Sat back down. Fuming and confused.
- Left the café, drove home and then after much deliberation over whether to just let it go, or not, called 101.
What I wished I had done:
- Not worried about embarrassing him or making him feel awkward – it is natural instinct to do this, but that doesn’t mean you let someone into your house to borrow your phone, simply to be kind.
- Talked in more detail about why it was inappropriate for him to take pictures in the first place.
- Asked him: “What did you intend to do with the images?”
- Looked at his camera to see if there were any other images of unsuspecting children.
- Got his name and taken HIS picture.
- Called 101 at the time and not an hour and a half later when I had returned home.
So why didn’t I do the above? My initial thoughts were that this man just didn’t think, that he was probably harmless and struggles to interpret what is seen as socially acceptable behaviour. Afterwards you imagine yourself screaming and shouting at the man in question, but at the time I didn’t. As someone who is usually quite outspoken, this reaction surprised me. On reflection I realised that in normal social situations people don’t generally act in this way and he was lucky that it was me he was facing and not an overly aggressive parent.
When I did eventually call 101 I was worried they would feel I was bothering them with something trivial. Yet the police were extremely open to hearing about what happened. If I called them at the time they would have sent someone down straight away to have a quiet chat with him and perhaps investigated further.
Is it illegal for someone to take a picture of my child without my permission?
I was asked to give an informal statement over the phone where they took as many details about his appearance as I could remember. They decided whether it should go to the intelligence unit or be recorded as a crime. I was surprised to hear it would be the latter and would be passed on to be investigated, as just to make it clear – it isn’t actually illegal to take a picture of your child in a public place without your permission, but it could be that you are caused “harassment, alarm or distress” in them doing so (under the Public Order Act), and in this case it was clearly not appropriate. However, it is illegal to capture an indecent photograph of a child or take pictures of children on private land where the landowner forbids photography.
In the weeks that followed the police went through the CCTV to verify what happened and talked me through the scene they could see as it happened (as seen in the actual images above). The CCTV wasn’t very clear, but nevertheless they distributed them to see if he could be identified in the local community.
I doubt the man will be found, but I am glad at the very least that I had a word with him and took the images off his camera. When it is someone doing it without your permission in this way (he wasn’t an event photographer whose job was to take pictures) then this is clearly invading your privacy and personal space.
Using 101 for a non-emergency
Why am I telling you about this? First, I wanted to say that calling 101 is a great way of reporting a non-emergency and we should remember that the service is there if and when you need it, for advice or to report a crime. I also wanted to remind others what to do if you feel that someone is out of bounds – even if your natural instinct is to a) not offend them b) not embarrass them. Forget about all that – if someone does something that you are uncomfortable with, tell them and pass it on to a higher authority. Don’t just try and deal with it on your own as these are the sorts of people who can go onto offend, or may already be doing so.
I recently watched a series called 24 Hours in Police Custody, which focused one of its programmes ‘Guilty little secret’ on a nationwide operation against people possessing and distributing indecent images of children online. I learnt that what may seem innocent behaviour, could ultimately be revealing something far more concerning. I really hope this wasn’t the case with the snap-happy man – I would like to feel flattered that he thought my kid was cute, but the uneasy feeling he left me with (especially after the banana comment) definitely overrode those feelings.