Linda Colling: Paedophobia

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SO, anyone with a camera is now seen as a paedophile. That’s the sad and sorry pitch we have reached.

And that was the case before three professional cameramen were stopped by police in Roker Park, questioned and accused of taking pictures of children. They weren’t, but they were understandably embarrassed by the whole episode and made to feel like “dirty old men.”

Stan Tunstall-Otterburn, Daniel Eddy and Mike Barfield felt humiliated. The finger of suspicion had been pointed and although they were told they were free to go after their photos had been checked out, I bet it’s put a whole new perspective on looking for a good photo opportunity. Especially if there are any children around.

Paedophobia has so invaded people’s psyche that you don’t even have to be taking photos where children are to come under suspicion. You can’t be nice to a child without being looked at and risk being castigated in public.

One friend in his 80s, a keen photographer said: “I just don’t take any pictures where children are. If you are sitting on a bus and a child turns round and looks at you and you say ‘Hello, how are you?’ people look at you as if you are weird.”

While it is not against the law to take pictures of children or anyone else in a public place, so many places ban photography in play areas, indoor soft play and in the viewing area of the Aquatic Centre, the use of mobile phones, presumably because they have cameras.

A couple of weeks ago a young mother was there with her daughter and took her into the toilets. The mother got her phone out and started texting. A woman came in and saw her and started berating her for taking photos in the toilets.

It is awful that good people now shy away from showing kindliness and concern where a child is involved, lest their intentions are misconstrued.

What once came naturally is now compromised by questioning: “Have I got the right to do it?’ You don’t know what corollary will be drawn from an innocent action. Once you would have helped now you daren’t.

One of our photographers who went to a play park that had been vandalised was careful to ask a couple of youngsters to move out of the way while he photographed the equipment and still a woman went clean off it. Another photographer, while down the beach, heard one of the lifeguards telling control they had seen someone with a camera with a telephoto lens.

In The Bridges last year a man was approached by a security guard for taking a picture of a youngster who was a member of his family.

Of course, in all these instances if anything had happened the police, lifeguards, and security officer would have been pilloried for not being vigilant enough.

But where will it all end? It is insidious that our society is so obsessed with paedophiles that the time has long gone when no one thought twice of taking pictures at a children’s football match, in a park or at the beach. And that’s hard lines on someone who is doing nothing wrong.

People are overreacting and it’s come to a pretty pass when a dad can’t take a picture of his child on a ride without being asked what he’s up to.

Point a camera now and you are in the firing line for being pilloried as a pervert.