A PHOTOGRAPHER has criticised Surrey Police after officers ripped the controls of a drone from his hands mid-flight.
Eddie Mitchell, 49, who lives in Broadwater, was arrested near Newchapel last Tuesday, for a breach of the peace, while working for the BBC.
Mr Mitchell, a licensed drone pilot, said he informed police he would be flying the 7kg device in order to get a shot of a caravan site where three people had died in a fire earlier the same day.
Twenty-five minutes later, three police officers forcefully removed the controls from Mr Mitchell’s hands, before cuffing him.
Mr Mitchell, a freelance photographer for the Herald and Gazette, said: “I have been doing the job for 15 years and I never in my wildest dreams thought they would remove it from my hands. I was aghast.
“It was like a hot potato – they were passing the controller between each other.
“When they took it over, it was over a road, which was an incredibly dangerous thing to do. They didn’t know how to work it at all and they had no situational awareness. It was an incredibly incompetent manoeuvre by the police. They had no idea how to deal with me. They had no idea of the danger they had put us all in.”
According to a statement from Surrey Police, the arrest was made following complaints from local residents and others in the vicinity of the blaze in which a woman and two young children died.
Detective Chief Inspector Antony Archibald said: “A number of uniformed officers and detectives were sent to the scene of this tragic incident to assist Surrey Fire and Rescue Service with their investigation.
“While in attendance, concerns about the behaviour of a man were raised to officers from people who believed he was acting in a disrespectful and intrusive manner.
“At the time of the arrest, the main focus for officers and fire crew at the scene was to conclude the initial forensic investigation and to allow the dignified removal of the bodies of those who had sadly died.
“This was a deeply distressing incident which has devastated the community and the impact will be felt for some time. The thoughts of all at Surrey Police are with those affected by the fire.”
But Mr Mitchell claimed he was flying the drone around 300 metres away from the site. He said the drone was unidentifiable and that he did not believe there had been any complaints.
He was taken to Salfords Custody Suite where he spent a number of hours before being released. He collected the confiscated drone the following day.
Freelance photographer Darren Cool was with Mr Mitchell at the time of the arrest and described the police officers’ actions as ‘aggressive’.
Mr Mitchell said the incident left him with a broken wrist in two places and confirmed that he would be taking legal action.
“I have had so much support.
“There are people out there who don’t understand how the press work. I was just doing my job and earning an honest living.”