Convicted for doing nothing illegal

Showing my libertarian streak here, but hang in there with me.  This situation frustrates me.  David Clarkson explains

A man who took photos of women’s breasts and buttocks as they walked in Hagley Park said he was pursuing a “hobby”.

Errol Reginald Standeven was today convicted of offensive behaviour and fined $600.

The 49-year-old technician took 269 photographs around Hagley Park, including many of women and children’s breast and buttock areas.

The photographs showed people walking or exercising around the park.

Many were full-length images, but many also focused on the body area with no faces visible.

Standeven defended the charge at a Christchurch District Court hearing before two Justices of the Peace, but was found guilty.

He had taken all 269 photographs over one or two weeks, he told the hearing.

“It’s a hobby,” he said. “I like taking photos.”

Even though Errol’ behaviour is extremely concerning, I don’t understand it to be illegal.  As a photographer, you are allowed to take photos of anything and anyone as long as they are in a public place.

Granted, asking permission is a good thing to do.  But it isn’t actually a legal requirement.

Constable Hamish Fair went to the park after a call about a man taking photographs of females. Standeven, who had been stopped nearby, would not answer any questions.

Fair found a camera in the vehicle. He had the photographs downloaded by the police photography section. Many of the photos were focussed on females between the shoulders and the knees.

One showed a woman in tights running around the park. The photograph showed from her breasts to her knees.

“I think the sheer number of the photographs is offensive,” Constable Fair said.

JPs Bob McGregor and Percy Acton-Adams found the charge proved.

“We believe that serious amateur photographers would seek permission from subjects prior to taking photos,” McGregor said.

The JPs made the order for destruction of the camera equipment and imposed the fine.

This is why I’m frustrated that he’s been convicted.  By all means, now that he’s known, see if you can deal with him through the health system –  assess his situation.

It is a very thin line between taking a photo on the beach with lots of people running around in swimming gear, including women and children, and what Errol was up to.   Yes, it does seem creepy.  But creepy isn’t the same as breaking the law.

If this is now the benchmark, where does that leave the rest of us?

Errol is just a bit dense of course.  He should have been a little more circumspect about his intentions.  Even so, to put his photo in the  paper, publish his full name, and convict him for taking photos in a park isn’t the way to deal with him.

If we are to have civil liberties, then he should be free to be weird.  He’s basically been convicted for a thought crime – what we assume he thinks when he photographs or when he looks at the photographs. And because people feel he may pose a risk and go beyond photography.   Thing is, he hasn’t.

What’s your take on this?


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