Braehead Big Brother

Given that we live in an era in which, as one politician once claimed- ‘it’s your duty to shop’ and at which time that civic duty of consumption increasingly involves buying cheap hi-tech equipment for domestic use, usually a smart phone or iphone – with a hi-def camera, one would assume that the natural thing to do as an honourable consumer would be to shop in a shopping centre and photograph your family enjoying the pleasures of retail.
Not so.
On Friday the 7th of October, Chris White, (45 years old, a married, mental health trainer from Glasgow) was shopping at Braehead shopping mall on the outskirts of Glasgow, with his daughter. In his own words, this is what happened – I took (a) photo of my 4 year old daughter looking cute on the back of a vespa seat at an ice cream bar inside Braehead… Having just bought her some new jigsaws we were going to go look at some clothes shops but never managed to continue our shopping trip.

 Walking down the shopping mall a (security) man approached me … as I was carrying my daughter in my arms. He came from behind me, cutting in front of me and told me to stop… He then said I had been spotted taking photos in the shopping centre which was ‘illegal’ and not allowed and then asked me to delete any photos I had taken.” 

The questioning that ensued, lasted 25 minutes and involved Strathclyde Police who were called in on the grounds that Mr. White’s had been acting ‘suspiciously.’ Mr.White claims that his daughter cried throughout the ‘interview’ and that he was ‘harassed’.
Mr. White also claims: ‘One of the officers) said that under the Prevention of Terrorism Act he (he) was quite within in his rights to confiscate my mobile phone without any explanation for taking photos within a public shopping centre, which seems an abuse of the act. He then said on this occasion he would allow me to keep the photos, but he wanted to take my full details.
Name, place of birth, age, employment status, address. Had I not had my daughter with me, and the fact that we are trying to bring our daughter up to respect and trust police officers, I may have exercised my right not to provide those details.” White gave his name and details, and showed the police the images on his camera (which he had already posted to facebook). He was then allowed to leave the premises, with his phone and images intact. He was, however, so shaken by the event that he then posted his story on facebook.  By Saturday morning 4000 people had LIKED his story and the media got involved.

What is most alarming about White’s story, however is that it is by no means a new story or an isolated case.

In January of 2010, a father was ‘branded a paedophile suspect’ for taking his son’s photo at Bridges Shopping Centre, Sunderland, by a security guard.
Over the last five years the National Union of Journalists has been staging protests to fight for the right to photograph in public places without Police interference.
In prohibiting photography, the laws that the police invoke most frequently are the Sections 43 and 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000. Section 43 states that police officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras to discover whether the images constitute evidence that the person is involved in terrorism. However, officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search unless a court order has been granted.
Under Section 44, police officers may stop anyone without reasonable suspicion, providing the area has been designated a likely target for an attack.
Similarily, the Protection of Children Act 1978 restricts making or possessing pornography of under-18s, or what looks like pornography of under-18s. And this act is also used by state police and private security companies when challenging people with cameras.
All of this, however, can only by a long stretch of the imagination, or very large legal grey area, have anything to do with Mr.White, his daughter and their trip to the mall.
The only law Mr. White was ultimately in breach of was a civiland not criminal one – that was the prohibition of photography in the mall by the mall owners. They had signs posted around the mall saying photography is not permitted, but even taking photographs in such a place would only amount to a minor civic issue.
This incident would not have been triggered had Mr.White been shopping on a city street, a town centre or a council owned shopping centre – an area in short that was not under the surveillance of a private company. It was the status of the mall as ‘private property’ that caused the framework in which ‘the offense’ took place. As White has said in a subsequent interview ‘Malls may say they are private space, but they don’t behave like it … they have their doors wide open, they have events.’
It is clear that many people in the UK do not fully understand that these large structures which now dominate the country’s retail landscape are not in any way ‘public’ – the laws of the land do not apply in these spaces.
This issue and the problems it raises has been more fully legally addressed in the United States – the home of the mall. In California and New Jersey court decisions have been based on the claim that “a mall is not like a house, a store or even a strip center” This means that a mall should therefore not be protected by the same private property laws as these places.  “Instead, a regional shopping center is the functional equivalent of a city street, and the free speech rights that people enjoy in a downtown area – – to leaflet, for example, apply to shopping centers.”
New Jersey and California are far ahead of the UK in that the right to assemble and even to demonstrate have also been legally permitted within shopping malls.
In the UK the laws on private property and their loose connection with POT laws and Child Protection laws are creating a great deal of confusion, where both private companies and the state are exploiting these ambiguities to intimidate the public. It is almost as if, the state and private companies are covertly working together to stamp out civilian photography, while at the same time they increase their surveillance of the population.
Ewan Morrison is the author of Tales from the Mall – a book of facts, fictions and interviews about the ‘Malling of Scotland’. To be released in Spring 2012, by Cargo Publishing.

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  1. mhairi says:

    Hmmm, so we have

    … private security guards calling in the police over a civil offense created purely by their ownership of an area to which they invite the public
    …unable to take actions on the basis of civil offenses, actions are undertaken by the police justified by alleged criminal offenses for which there are no evidence

    Looks to me very much like the merging of state and corporate power.
    Isn’t there a name for that?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Yea, is this the Big Society?

      1. Geo Imrie says:

        More like small people with small minds trying to convince other people how big they think they are. The sooner the general public gets a bit of backbone and tells them where to stick their Orwellian rules the better.
        Suffice to say, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting………

    2. Mhairi

      Yes, baring in mind that the state brokers deals with the malls in the first place for the cheap buyover of public land – it would seem that you are right.

      E

  2. An ill-thought out regulation applied to an idiotic degree and contrary to the law by belligerent officials. The private security guard has no right to do anything other than make requests relating to individuals upon private property, culminating in the request to leave. A court order is needed to ban anyone from shopping centres, as persistent shoplifters sometimes find out. The cop was way out of order as well and should be reprimanded by his superiors. ‘Words of advice’ have no legal compulsion. He could have arrested the gentleman for a ‘breach of the peace’ – with a child in tow – but then Strathclyde Police would be the focus of far more media attention than Braehead, and liable for a modest payout to this gentleman plus a bigger bollocking for the cop.

    It usefully highlights the right of access and freedoms within these malls as a matter of land use planning policy. They should be treated as town centres for access purposes, as in the US.

    It also reminds us that we are free, not impotent, and can come together via the internet to hold people and institutions to account. When we’re not idly Googling, that is….

  3. Security at #OceanTerminal harassed me after I had used the top deck of the car park to photograph views of Leith Docks and the city. It was scary like a spy movie.
    I think that the problem is the authoritarian attitude of Security based on the extra legal powers bestowed because a Mall IS private property.
    On the other hand we the public regard a Mall as just the High Street with a roof and are therefore enraged when our usual rights are challenged.

  4. Tocasaid says:

    Even made the London news tonight. Amazing Stasi-esque stuff.

    And yet Liam Fox can invite his ‘best’ man to… well, everywhere?

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    The frontiers of control can be rolled back if citizens challenge them: eleven shopping centres in Scotland have now announced they will “allow” photography. Its a start.

    KW

    1. Yes, and all this from one man standing up. Not that I usually back this ‘one man can change history’ angle. I think its more likely that society is a powder keg right now and apparently little stories like this have the power to ignite gtreta suppressed rage.

      Well done to Chris on the change in the ruling. And good news for all of us. What we need to do is keep articulating these stories as and when they come up and to try to push government into rezoning malls as ‘public space’ – taking back the spaces that were sold off in the privatisation bonanza – at least in terms of our rights in those spaces.

      E

      1. Indy says:

        Malls like Braehead are not public spaces. They are private property.

        If you want to shop in a public space try your local high street or city centre.

  6. Very important trend. I had exactly this experience at Westfield, in London. Down to the crying daughter. I mentioned the event and wrote about some wider issues it suggested to me over here:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/openeconomy/tony-curzon-price/whats-mampus-all-about-merging-of-shopping-mall-campus-in-urban-and-so

    1. The The MAPMUS is a very disturbing trend. Will forward and link to your article Tony.

  7. JB says:

    Bouncers/guards are fast becoming a private police force, and think that they can do what they like. Security guard and bouncer jobs seem to attract violent criminals, and members of the far right.

  8. Silver Ghost says:

    occupy Braehead?

    You are waking up to the corporate ownership of your living space.

    This is a global phenomenon.

  9. Silver Ghost says:

    The ground beneath your feet has been sold and has a private police force. Wake up.

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