Can we take a step back please?

Ian Thomlinson's stepson, Paul King, weeps with his family on the 1 year anniversary of his death. Image © Jonathan Warren 2010
Ian Thomlinson's stepson, Paul King, weeps with his family on the 1 year anniversary of his fathers death. Image © Jonathan Warren 2010

Earlier today I attended a memorial for Ian Thomlinson, the paper seller who died during the G20 protests last year. There were numerous protesters there and even some of the organisers of the G20 protests. His family were also there to lay flowers at the spot where he died face-down on the pavement after being hit by a policeman.

There has been a lot of coverage of the Thomlinson case, so naturally there were a lot of photographers and broadcasters there to cover the event. But what I didn’t expect was the disgusting way that some, of what I would like to call colleagues, behaved both before and during the event.

As one of the organisers of the memorial told the assembled press pack that the family would be arriving shortly and asked that we be respectful and take a step or two back. One photographer asked how many of the family would be there, he replied that it would be ‘a few’ the photographer said that ‘two or three is all we need’.

It is our job as journalists to document events, not orchestrate them.

Shortly after the Thomlinson family arrived and a priest from the local church began to address the crowd, a broadcast presenter standing next to me interrupted him to ask if he would turn the other way to face her cameraman. He ignored her and continued to address the crowd asking for a minutes silence.

As the silence grew longer photographers around me were inching closer to the family as they stood weeping at the spot where Ian died. At one point one of the Thomlinson family had to push away a video camera that was beginning to brush against her head as the cameraman tried to get closer to Ian’s widow, Julia Thomlinson.

Then as the family left the memorial in tears they were chased down the street by a mob of photographers and cameramen, probably as they hadn’t been able to get a clear shot of the family at the memorial because they were surrounded by photographers, lenses inches away from their faces.

I can understand why there is a pressure to get these images, it’s difficult to explain to an editor that you didn’t get the shot because some idiot with a wide angle lens wanted to get in close. As soon as one person gets in close, everyone else has to get in close to get the shot.

As photographers we should be self-policing at these sorts of events, otherwise either we won’t be invited again or someone else will start policing them. A number of other photographers and myself repeatedly asked for people to take a step back but our requests fell on deaf ears.

Point 5 of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice states that:

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.

So all I’m asking is, next time, can we all take a step back please?

I wasn’t there today (did work at the G20 though as it happens), but I fully back you up on this Jonathan. I think the pressures don’t help but they certainly don’t excuse this kind of behaviour.

Yes, why can’t we agree to ‘go long and stay long’ in these kinds of situations. I can recall a situation in Edinburgh when Bob Geldof arrived at Waverley Station and there was a photo op with a Matatu (Toyota 15 person taxi) that had come all the way through from South Africa.

This was an orchestrated event and no where near as sensitive as todays, but the assembled media got so close to Bob as to not allow him room to even get round the vehicle. Another photographer and I shouted to the rest to step back so we could all get the shot. Did they listen, like heck did they. So hardly anyone got it. Pathetic.

Back to asking people to move and set things up. There are clearly situations where the event is a press call where that’s ok and acceptable, but today’s happenings clearly didn’t fall into that category. And they wonder why people don’t like us?


Very eloquently put. Shades of Princes Diana’s death in the french tunnel come to mind…the paparazzi chase on motorbikes etc. Well done for keeping a respectful distance.

To a certain extent situations like these result from celeb culture. Anyone on day shift for an agency or national daily will do a many jobs per shift that involve a bun fight with numerous paps and would be paps who operate to to their own rules.

In celeb-world there are numerous justifications churned out for why it is perfectly acceptable to invade the personal space of their subject. In celeb-world the more intrusive the close up, the more its worth. In celeb-world the competition is cut throat enough for the deliberate blocking of others snappers pictures to be the accepted norm.

Much as I have zero sympathy for the Katie Prices of this world who make a fortune from showbiz and its parasites. I wish these practices would stay in the taxi ranks outside the Ivy and leave real news stories to be treated with professionalism.

The way the ‘Breach of Trust and Confidence’ common law has been extended to cover the Human Rights cases on privacy mean that a paper could end up unable to print such an image anyway.

This was obviously, to quite a great extent, a staged event and so no-one is likely to go to court about it, but in other situtations they could and they would probably win. I’ve been surprised that more celebrities don’t kick up a fuss (e.g. Emma Watson having a picture taken up her skirt at her 18th birthday is hardly good publicity for her and really horrible) but maybe they don’t think it’s worth it.

The Press Compaints Commission Code of Practice is clear anyway and it is important that the press are regulating themselves rather than anyone less interested in freedom of speech and artistic integrity doing it.

You can see why the Police wanted to stay as uninvolved as possible at the memorial, even if they could have moved photographers back, but that wont always be the case. Well done for putting this up Jono.

The place where the Tomlinson memorial was held is a narrow pavement by a narrow road. It’s a bad place for photography but it’s where Ian Tomlinson died. Had it been a cop who’d died the police would have had made plenty of space, stopped the traffic, given all the photographers room to move. They knew there’d be a crush and just let it happen out of petty spite. No surprise there.

The “let’s all take a step back” cry has been heard for 30+ yrs to my knowledge – it’s only possible when there’s plenty of room – and even then the best shots are often from closer as a wider lens used close gives more background. I frequently work very close to my subjects, the important thing is to be aware of how they are feeling about you and to produce work that justifies your intrusion.

The family want to make a fuss. They knew the attention they’d get before they announced the memorial. They’re very used to press and photographers and want to use the media to bring the police to account. I’m happy to go along with that.

I think the Tomlinson family feel strengthened in their resolve by the intense attention that the press are giving to their story.

Interesting. I’ve seen photographers write that collectively a press pack exhibits common sense and respect so is capable of self restraint and regulation but my experiences are more of baying mobs pushing and shoving, getting ‘the story’ (the preconceived version anyway) being more important than the event and its participants.