Photographers agree to blur firearms officers' faces

A group of Fleet Street photographers has agreed to greater cooperation with firearms police officers with the Metropolitan Police, including pixelating faces to hide the marksmen’s identities.

About 12 newspaper, agency and freelance photographers met senior officers from CO19, the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Firearms Command, yesterday in a bid to foster better relations between police and press.

At the meeting, police voiced their concerns that firearms officers’ safety was put at risk by being photographed and the photographers present agreed in principle to blur faces to obscure their identity. Though the photographers agreed to greater cooperation, they stressed that any final decision on pixelating pictures would be taken by their editors.

Chief Superintendent Bill Tillbrook, head of CO19, said the unit had received intelligence in the past that criminals had attempted to find information on officers whose faces had appeared in the press.

He said that one officer’s children on one occasion suffered taunts of ‘your daddy’s a killer’after their father’s picture appeared in the paper and admitted there had been flare-ups between his officers and photographers in the past.

Some firearms officers do not tell friends and family exactly what they do for fear of reprisals in their community while some carry out work undercover, Tillbrook said.

He told Press Gazette that his unit ‘understands that we have absolutely no right to demand a camera or to delete pictures”.

‘We explained in detail why some of our staff wouldn’t want to see their faces in the paper,” he said.

“We said, how about if one of our staff sees a photographer on the street, bearing in mind that they are professional card-carriers, and asked for five-minute chat and said ‘would you mind not using that one or at least pixellate my face?’

‘We are in no position legally or morally to start making demands… but there are welfare and safety issues and, to be fair, the photographers here understood that.”

The police will be issuing guidelines to picture desks across all London papers soon.

Nigel Howard, an Evening Standard photographer who has been with the paper 12 years, was at the meeting and saw the agreement as a step forward in press-police relations.

‘They don’t have a great issue with being photographed; they just want us to obscure their faces… and we are quite prepared to do that,’he said.

‘Police have been a little obstructive when we wish to take pictures at armed incidents. But I am now pleased to say that after discussions a new way forward has been worked out for a better relationship.”

Howard said there could still a problem when ‘citizen journalists’take pictures of crime scenes using mobile phones, but he admitted there was little either side could do about it.

Relations between photographers and police were better, he said, after the signing of behaviour guidelines between journalists and the Met last year.

‘The difficulty is that there has been a problem getting the message across to every officer,” he said. “If I go to a murder in south London it can be fine and I go to another down the road I will have problems.”

Both sides stress the informal deal will not affect normal police activity and relates only to firearms incidents such as the fatal shooting by CO19 officers of solicitor Mark Saunders in west London after a five-hour stand-off in May.

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