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Of all the accounts, of all the testimonies, of all the confused interactions, bumbling application of draconian laws – THIS ONE takes the biscuit.

Edward Denison was photographing the Hammersmith Police Station for a book about McMorran & Whitby, one in a series about post-war British architects jointed supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects, The Twentieth Century Society and English Heritage. Denison knew the law:

The laws of this free and democratic country permit members of the public to photograph any building, as long as the photographer is standing on a public right of way when taking the photograph. I know this because a very professional and courteous member of the City of London Police explained it to me when I was photographing its headquarters at 37 Wood Street (completed in 1966) and the extension to the Central Criminal Courts on Old Bailey (completed in 1972), both designed by the architectural firm McMorran & Whitby.

He was also conscious of others’ needs for explanation:

Although I am not legally obliged to do so, as a matter of courtesy I always (if possible) seek to explain what I am doing to the occupants of any building I am photographing before I leave. At Hammersmith, I went to the reception located inside the public entrance, to be met by two quizzical officers.

Denison goes on to explain that the officers told him he couldn’t photograph. He told them he could and they acquiesced with the retort “For now.” Shortly before leaving Denison crossed the road to take a picture of an architectural detail. At this point two officers ran down the street, commanding him to cease photographing and then detained him for 45 minutes despite his full credentials, letters of recommendation and helpful explanation of his project and sponsors. Only after word was received that his name wasn’t on the suspected terroist list was he free to leave, albeit with a completed 5090(X) form.

Busted! Credit: Phil Clements. An example of a 5090(X) form.

Busted! Credit: Phil Clements. An example of a 5090(X) form.

A little irony is that the architect, McMorran, is Denison’s grandfather. Denison already had architectural plans and elevations in his possession. He knew the building better than any officer inside! Denison is as exasperated as the rest of us with a robotic police force that acts upon its role play training and not the evidence at hand in a particular situation:

But do the police really need to be trained to recognise that in the age of the mobile-phone camera (or indeed Google Earth), a man with a camera, a wide-angle lens and a fold-up bicycle openly taking photographs of a police station makes an unlikely suspect?

From reading Denison’s account, it seems he (like many others) needed to experience harassment to fully comprehend the erosion of civil liberties in the UK; to crystalise the meaning and consequences of the Prevention of Terrorism Act upon the average citizen.

Denison ends with a statement that brings home the difference between his innocuous activities and those of the past:

Real terrorists do what the Irish Republican Army did to McMorran & Whitby’s Central Criminal Court on 8 March 1973, only months after it had been opened – detonate a massive car-bomb right outside what John Betjeman called this “splendid fortress of the law”. The building survived intact. Donald McMorran had designed Hammersmith Police Station to withstand aerial bombardment, in anticipation of another kind of war.

Hammersmith Police Station, together with the plans already Edward Denison's possession

Hammersmith Police Station, together with the plans already in Edward Denison's possession

In the past Hammersmith Police Station has veered from proactive engagement to utter neglect of the public. With officers on the street inconsistently enacting ludicrous law, it seems the Metropolitan police force – as a whole – is as schizophrenic.


For fun, you can view a 5090(X) forms Set at Flickr.


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