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BUS spotter to hang up camera after paedophile and terrorist accusations

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: June 23, 2008

  • SNAP UNHAPPY: Rob McCaffery amateur transport photographer from Robinswood, Gloucester who has been approached by police while photographing buses. Left – one of Rob's photographs of an old bus, taken in Gloucester's Clarence Street.

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AS a boy, Rob McCaffrey was fascinated by buses, trams and coaches of all different shapes and sized.

But after amassing 30,000 photos over 40 years as a bus spotter – or omnibologist – he says he may hang up his camera because he is fed up with being labelled a paedophile or a terrorist.

Rob, from Robinswood, Gloucester, claims he has been forced to suffer the humiliation of police taking his details and checking his camera twice in the past 12 months, after innocently snapping buses on public highways.

And now he says enough is enough.

Rob, 50, said: “Since the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown on security and it seems everyone with a camera is a potential criminal.

“The past two years have absolutely been the worst, I have had the most appalling abuse from the public, drivers and police over-exercising their authority.

“We just want to enjoy our hobby without harassment.”

Rob says his love affair with buses has taken him all over Europe and to former Iron Curtain countries, but the only time he has ever had any trouble is in the UK.

The credit controller says his first brush with the long arm of the law was in Pontypridd, last September.

A bus driver took exception to being snapped and called the police, who demanded to see what he had on his camera.

A second incident in Monmouth saw an embarrassed PCSO approach Rob and run his name and address through police computers after a member of the public complained he had been acting strangely.

And while he admits the image of a bespectacled, geeky mac-wearing trainspotter taking down train numbers does apply to some extreme bus and train enthusiasts, the vast majority are normal everyday people, like himself.

Rob's wife Jay, 46, agrees he is being hard done by.

“My brother drives a bus in London, and says if he had a pound for every time a tourist took a picture, he'd be a millionaire,” she argued.

“It happens every day. The spotters are just an easy target.”

It is not illegal to take photos in a public place, but under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police officers may randomly stop someone without reasonable suspicion, if the area is a likely target for an attack.

MP and amateur snapper Austin Mitchell tabled an early day motion in the Commons calling on the Home Office and police to educate officers about photographers' rights after being stopped twice himself.

Rob is fed up of the accusations, and says police need to stop over-reaching their authority.

“I can deal with the fact someone might think I'm a terrorist, but when they start saying you're a paedophile it really hurts,” he said.

“We don't want to harbour people doing something illegal, but while the police are wasting their time with me a terrorist could be planning his next atrocity.”

A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Police said: “If a member of the public becomes suspicious of an individual taking photos in public and makes a complaint to a police officer, the officer will first discuss the matter with the photographer.

“Normally the individual is more than happy to disperse any suspicion by showing an officer their photos and one of the benefits of digital cameras is that this can be done on the spot.

“However, if the officer remains suspicious as to the content of the images or the photographers intentions they have the authority, under the Police and Criminal Evident Act, to seize the camera and arrest the individual.”

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    David Joyce, Stonehouse  |  June 27 2008, 8:08AM

    Everyday that I am not working I walk around the footpaths and byways of my village. I also openly walk down the main thoroughfare,on my return, to shop. I have done this for the 22 years that I have lived in the village. This morning was a little different whilst walking I noticed a a Police vehicle pass me, slow down and park up. As I approached the single constable spoke to me through the open passenger he asked me why I was carrying a camera. I have done this also for 22 years. True this a.m. I had a large 70-200 canon L lens attached but still nothing for me out of the ordinary. Whilst assuring me that I was doing nothing wrong ( at least 3 times) he did question me. He mentioned that " people" were nervous when someone was out and about with a camera in public. We had a good natured conversation and shook hands on parting. He "used his discretion" but still made a note of my name, address and D.O.B. I have to just ask would he stop someone openly carrying a camera phone?

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    Bob Scott, Crete  |  June 27 2008, 7:27AM

    Poor chap. Human rights are meant to protect not persecute people like him. Country's gone mad. Everyone looking over their shoulders. Psychotic I call it!

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    David Chubb, Lincoln  |  June 25 2008, 4:16PM

    I too am a prolific bus and train photographer and also dabble in aircraft photography. I have been stopped on many occasions but, discounting the jobsworths (to whom a suggestion that they call the police usually settles the matter!) and confused bus drivers who seem to think that their bus has human rights, a co-operative manner and polite answers seems to do the trick. Skulking around trying to avoid "authority" will get people's backs up quicker than anything!

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    Paul, Cheltenham  |  June 25 2008, 7:27AM

    He is committing no crime, so the police should leave him alone. If the public allows itself to succumb to paranoia, the terrorists have already won.

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    Anonymous Coward, Glos.  |  June 24 2008, 10:19AM

    The spokesman is incorrect the police do not have the authority to seize the camera or film. They require a court order to do so. As for the Terrorism act and possessing photographs, after the Court of Appeal decision earlier this year there has to be a demonstrable intent to commit an act of terrorism so just having photo's isn't enough. Maybe he could have carried a card saying the following: You are reminded that under English law : there are no restrictions on taking photographs in a public place or on photography of individuals, whether they are adults or minors; there is no right to privacy in a public place, although photographers are of course subject to the usual libel laws in the same way as other citizens and should observe them; equipment or film may not be confiscated, or images deleted, by any person or officer unless a warrant for such action is issued. Any attempt without a warrant is considered assault under English.

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    Andrew Meads, Gloucester  |  June 23 2008, 3:03PM

    It is about time the police understood the law on taking photographs. The subject has been covered in several phot magazines in the past few months because innocent photographers are being increasingly targetted. Basically, it is permissible to take photos in and from any public place unless there is a clear infringement of privacy or security. I doubt that taking photos of buses comes under either classification. Stck with your camera Rob and don't let the b lighters grind you down!

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    anon, cheltenham  |  June 23 2008, 10:29AM

    my dad is a big fan of getting aeroplane,train,lorry and bus numbers and pictures he has been lucky that the pictures he has taken has not caused any trouble but i think its apoor shame that this guy can not do is hobby without having to worry

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    Lecorche, Gloucestershire  |  June 23 2008, 10:16AM

    I always carry a Camera to take snaps of interest to me..I always ask first if there are people involved..Some of my shots have even been shown on this and other websites..Tough it out ,Rob.

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    paulc, matson  |  June 23 2008, 10:15AM

    keep taking the photos... giving in to them is letting them get away with their petty oppression of the general public...

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    John, Glos  |  June 23 2008, 10:06AM

    I like your comment Peter!! In all seriousness it is getting ridiculous! Rob don't let petty minded people affect your hobby!