Police officers should not use counter-terrorism laws to stop people taking photographs in public, a senior officer insisted yesterday.

John Yates, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner who heads anti-terror operations at Scotland Yard, said there was no restriction on people taking photographs of public buildings or frontline police staff, other than in "very exceptional" circumstances.

He added that there was "clear and unequivocal guidance" to officers that merely taking a picture was not enough reason to justify a stop and search under an amendment to the Counter Terrorism Act 2008. Mr Yates said: "Unless there is a very good reason, people taking photographs should not be stopped."

Earlier this month, The Independent reported that the law was being used to harass press photographers and members of the public taking innocent photos of tourist spots and landmarks. Photographers said they had been told not picture certain buildings and uniformed police in Westminster.

In other cases, a BBC journalist was stopped and searched by two community support officers as he took photos of St Paul's Cathedral, while Andrew White, 33, was was stopped and asked to give his name and address after taking pictures of Christmas lights on his way to work in Brighton. In July, Alex Turner, an amateur photographer, was arrested after taking pictures of a fish and chip shop in Chatham, Kent.

Mr Yates said people taking pictures should only be stopped if there was a legitimate reason to suspect them of involvement in terrorism. He has issued fresh guidance to senior officers and on the Met's internal website.

"There is no restriction on people taking photographs in public places or of any building other than in very exceptional circumstances," he said. "There is no prohibition on photographing frontline uniform staff. The act of taking a photograph in itself is not usually sufficient to carry out a stop."

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