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‘Cops confiscated my equipment for reporting on protest’—photo journalist Guy Smallman

When my property has been returned, I’ll donate the temporary equipment to the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate, writes Socialist Worker photographer Guy Smallman
Issue 2912
Guy Smallman pointing a camera at us

Photographer Guy Smallman

Recently I was photographing a theatrical protest at the enormous mansion owned by our prime minister and his wife.

It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But the protestors were making a point about Rishi Sunak’s imminent departure and also the ongoing scandal of raw sewage being tipped into our waterways.

The three activists understood the possibility of getting lifted for their peaceful performance art. Their stunt lasted less than two minutes and was staged a considerable distance from the house itself.

A uniformed cop arrived very quickly and I identified myself with my press card while on a public footpath. He then spent the best part of an hour on his radio with his superiors passing on my details and those of the others. He then announced that we were all being arrested for aggravated trespass.

The police then held me for 12 hours. They prevented me from calling anyone to look after my dog. During the interview, they said I could face five years in prison if I didn’t hand over the pass code to my phone—which I refused.

They then announced that all my equipment was being kept as evidence—all they would actually need is the memory cards. They said this decision will next be reviewed in mid- September, effectively preventing me from working until then. The items they are holding have a collective value of over £14,000, much of it recently purchased.

In a democracy journalists act on tip-offs from sources. That’s true whether it is a senior political correspondent getting info from a cabinet minister or someone like me photographing civil disobedience.

In both cases we are observers rather than participants. We should be allowed to do our jobs without the police deciding what journalism should and should not be.

As a stop-gap measure, some friends have launched a crowd fund to raise £4,500. I will be able to purchase some basic second-hand camera equipment and combine it with some borrowed kit to return to work immediately.

When my property has been returned by the police, the temporary equipment will be donated to the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS). It represents and trains journalists in Gaza and the West Bank.

I’m extremely grateful to friends and colleagues for organising this temporary solution which will also benefit colleagues abroad in the longer term. I intend to be thrifty and resourceful replacing my regular kit.

Journalists in Gaza are facing the most extreme conditions imaginable. A gesture like this could make all the difference to a Gazan journalist trying to get back to work to document the unfolding catastrophe. Over 100 of them have been murdered since 7 October.

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