Love Hate Relationship
Over the years, I have been to court hundreds of times. Not as the defendant I stress, but as the press photographer skulking outside awaiting the designated target to leave the premises. It has always been a part of the job that I have been in two minds about.
On the one hand, there is no better feeling than getting a picture of a guilty subject, especially when it is in connection with a particularly terrible and indecent crime, and even more so if the person in question has attempted to hide their identity, run away or hurl a mouthful of abuse towards you. On occasion, individuals have exhibited all of these elements at the same time. Furthermore, by identifying these offenders who are subsequently displayed in the newspapers and on websites, I have always felt like I have made a small but positive contribution to Society.
On the other hand, there is the fear of being assaulted, and having expensive camera gear smashed or stolen. You would think that if someone is appearing at court then committing a further crime would be the last thing on their mind but that has not always proved to be the case. Often it will be the least likely individuals who will take exception to having their picture taken. Granted, it is not the most pleasant of things to be photographed without prior permission, but the laws of this country mean that if images are captured in or from a public place of anything and anyone then it is within their boundaries. On a more philosophical level, components of 'freedom of speech' and democracy arise.
Up to now, I have been verbally-abused and gestured at on countless occasions, squared-up to, spat at and hit around the head with a hand bag. None of these instances were particularly nice but they were reluctantly accepted as part of the job.
As a photographer working for a local/regional paper the experience of covering court is very different to what you might see on the television. It is rare that there will be another member of the media standing outside the courts that I attend, in particular the magistrates' courts. The reason for this in part is that other news agencies won't often be aware of a case until it appears in the pages of the respective newspaper and/or if it progresses (if the criteria of the case fits) to a Crown court. Therefore, the reality of being standing outside a courthouse on your own is a world apart from the scrum of photographers and cameramen reporting on a trial and suchlike outside the Old Bailey or High Courts of London.
I was requested to get a photo of a gentleman alleged to have been involved in fraudulent activity connected with the sale of a property during a recent trip to Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court. Entering the fairly small courtroom, I found myself sitting in the public gallery between a plain clothed police officer who I assumed was connected with the prosecution and the solicitor representing the defendant. While we all waited the calling of the case that had brought us all to that venue, conversation was freely spoken between my two seated neigbours which even included a comment from the solicitor expressing his surprise that there were no members of the media present (as far as he was aware). Naturally I kept quiet, knowing that the element of surprise is often the difference between managing to get a photo of the defendant's face rather than the back of their head, newspaper covered, umbrella hidden or having to make chase. My cover was maintained and later the subject was digitally captured as he left. He even gave me a wave for my troubles - much preferred to the finger gestures that I have become more accustomed to during a trip to court.