CCTV SURVEILLANCE AND OTHER FILMING
CCTV surveillance equipment has been very effective in showing evidence for crime and anti-social behaviour. Check if there is any CCTV surveillance nearby which may show images of the perpetrator(s) or indeed the behaviour itself.
You can use your own domestic CCTV, camera or other appropriate device with a camera and/or video (e.g. mobile phone). Please note, however, that this may be taken into the custody of the police as evidence if required to press charges against someone.
People can get the wrong idea and so any use of video footage or photographs must be done with the utmost care. For example, in July 2013 Bijan Ebrahimi, in Bristol, sought to get his own evidence in this way and it was misinterpreted by his neighbours as evidence of paedophilia. He was released without charge by the police, but then murdered by the original perpetrators of the anti-social behaviour.
Using your domestic CCTV installation
In general, private CCTV installations owned by members of the public should not be directed beyond the boundary of their own property. However there is no legislation regulating the use of privately owned CCTV. Placing the camera in a way that is intrusive could lead to claims of invasion of privacy and harassment, so it is important to be respectful of your neighbours’ and others’ rights.
Private CCTV should be used to ensure the security of the property it is installed on, rather than recording the activity of neighbours. The boundary of a garden/property is a very good guideline beyond which activity could be considered intrusive. Security of the home is only breached if the boundary is crossed by someone intent on causing damage or committing a criminal act.
How useful are photographs as evidence in court?
Although sometimes photographs can provide useful information, preferably when supported by other evidence, judges and magistrates give more weight to evidence from people who have seen or experienced the anti-social behaviour first hand than to photographs or video clips.
More enforcement authorities are placing greater emphasis on training staff to be confident when investigating complaints of anti-social behaviour, especially if there are counter-allegations. Greater reliance is placed on supporting witnesses to keep diaries and provide statements to build a case than obtaining photos and video clips as evidence to use in court.
This shift is due to the following factors:
- Photographs are not conclusive in terms of the actions they show because they do not always show the context in which action takes place.
- Photographs can be manipulated.
- Judges and magistrates would rather hear the first hand evidence of a resident who is suffering anti-social behaviour than any number of video clips or photographs. This does not necessarily mean that you will have to appear in court and give evidence in person.
That said, below we set out some guidance to help you understand your rights, avoid invading others’ privacy and know what material is helpful to progress an anti-social behaviour case.
Legislation (non-commercial film/photography)
There is no general law against taking photographs in a public place or on streets, or from your own property but there are certain restrictions which apply to specific situations to safeguard children, national security and the rights of individuals to privacy and freedom from harassment.
Child Protection – What is an indecent photograph?
It is illegal to take, make, distribute, show, display, publish or possess photographs of children 16 and under which are defined by the law as indecent. Section 7 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 creates a number of offences of photographing young people in indecent postures.
Whilst there has been media coverage recently of schools banning the use of photography of children under the Data Protection Act, it is not illegal to take normal photographs of children in public places.
Invasion of privacy
Taking photographs of persons in a public place would not normally be regarded as an invasion of privacy. Using a telephoto lens to take a photo of someone in a private place, such as their home, without consent might be an invasion of privacy even though the photo is taken from a public place. This is because a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their own home.
Taking photographs on private property
Owners of private property cannot normally prevent photographs being taken of their property from a public place (unless for example, if a judge believes it is reasonable to make an injunction to prevent someone doing so).
A person who enters private property without permission commits a trespass, as does a person who ‘interferes’ with the property, such as climbing on a landowner’s wall to take a photographs.
You may enter private property with permission of the owner and under their conditions. If you then break the conditions of access, which might include a condition not to take photographs, you become a trespasser.
Even where the private property is open to entry by the public, (such as a business) the owner or occupier of the property has the right to demand that a person ceases taking photographs and leaves the premises. Most shopping centres stand on private land and security guards have been known to demand that people stop taking photos and leave.
Property owners or their employees and security staff have no right to confiscate or damage a photographer’s equipment or insist that images are deleted.
A person cannot claim they are being harassed just because they were photographed on one occasion when they didn’t want to be. However, if a photographer stalks a subject to photograph them or repeatedly thrusts a camera in their face this is a different matter. It may constitute harassment if it causes the subject harassment, alarm and distress and if such actions amount to a pattern of conduct – i.e. at least two separate incidents.
Taking photographs as evidence of anti-social behaviour
On the positive side, being seen taking photographs by those believed to be responsible for anti-social behaviour could send a signal to those responsible that you are willing to take action. This could make them think twice about their behaviour. However, it might also escalate the anti-social behaviour through threatened or actual retaliation.
The specific agency you are working with (eg. Police, Local Authority) can give advice on the safety and usefulness of taking photographs in individual cases. As a potential witness to anti-social behaviour, close contact with neighbours, agencies, or witness support organisations is important for support if the situation escalates.
What can you do with the photographs?
Such photographs or video material should only be used for the purposes of assisting authorities to prevent or detect anti-social behaviour and not for publishing or wider use, particularly if they identify persons and reveal personal information about them. When deciding what to do with such material officers or public authorities handling your case will be able to advise.
The Data Protection Act governs how public authorities use and store personal information. This includes photographs which are stored with personal details. Photographs taken for purely personal use, such as a parent photographing their child in a school nativity play are exempt.
When could photographs help investigation?
It is important to keep an incident diary recording events which can be supported by photography or video and sound recordings.
Sometimes it can difficult to identify persons believed to be responsible for anti-social behaviour. It might be possible to catch nicknames, or work with other neighbours to share information but photography in combination with keeping an incident diary can help.
If the case goes to court (although this is not always necessary to stop the behaviour) records of an incident captured in good detail at the time which also describe the impact of the anti-social behaviour will help officers handing the case provide credible, persuasive and accurate evidence.
Positioning – decide on the most effective positioning of the camera(s) and field of view. Make sure that your CCTV camera(s) is trained on your own property rather than that of your neighbours.
While it is lawful for you to monitor your own property for security purposes, the manner in which CCTV is used, in particular where the field of view covers areas outside your property, may have legal consequences.
Cameras being deliberately trained on areas outside an individual’s property could amount to harassment and potentially give rise to prosecution under the Public Order Act or Protection from Harassment Act.