Police officers widely misusing body-worn cameras – bbc.co.uk

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Watch: Body camera footage shows how siblings Yufial and Louisa were handled by police officers
Police officers are switching off their body-worn cameras when force is used, as well as deleting footage and sharing videos on WhatsApp.
A BBC investigation has uncovered more than 150 reports of camera misuse by forces in England and Wales – described as "shocking" by a leading officer.
In one case, siblings faced a two-year legal battle over footage showing officers' use of force against them.
The Home Office says police use of cameras must be lawful and justified.
The roll-out of body-worn cameras, costing at least £90m over the past decade, was intended to benefit both victims and the police – protecting officers against malicious complaints and improving the quality of evidence collected.
But during a two-year investigation, the BBC has obtained reports of misuse from Freedom of Information requests, police sources, misconduct hearings and regulator reports.
The cameras were introduced to improve policing transparency, but we found more than 150 camera misuse reports with cases to answer over misconduct, recommendations for learning or where complaints were upheld.
The most serious allegations include:
The failures uncovered by the BBC are "unlawful" in some cases, says the National Police Chief Council's lead for body-worn video, Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell.
"Those incidents go to the heart of what undermines confidence in policing," he says.
He believes more footage should now be released in order to improve public trust.
Among evidence obtained by the BBC are multiple previously unreleased videos of an incident which illustrates some of the concerns held about the use of cameras.
Siblings Louisa, 25, and Yufial, 23 were prosecuted after being accused of assaulting and abusing officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in London in May 2020. They always maintained their innocence and that the police assaulted them.
They faced a two-year legal battle to obtain crucial body-worn video evidence showing use of force by police against them.
The demonstration, outside Parliament, began peacefully but later ended in confrontation.
The clash, which only lasted a little longer than a minute, led to Louisa being restrained by a group of officers using a technique described as involving an "enormous" use of force by one restraint expert.
Mobile phone footage shared on social media showed her head being pressed into the ground.
Both siblings were arrested and charged. Yufial was accused of assaulting an officer, while Louisa was accused of being threatening or abusive towards another.
Footage seen by the BBC shows Louisa being pushed by a female officer while another shows Yufial being struck by a male officer, who is then pulled back by colleagues.
Bodycam cops uncovered
Body-worn cameras were supposed to increase transparency in policing but this investigation has uncovered more than 150 reports of failings. We reveal how cameras have been switched off when force was used, videos have been deleted or not disclosed, and footage has been shared on social media.
Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)
The video wasn't initially disclosed to either of them.
"[I kept thinking] I'm not going crazy, I know what happened, I saw the officer punch my brother," Louisa says.
They were both eventually acquitted. At Yufial's hearing, the judge said it seemed the prosecution had deliberately failed to disclose relevant information.
The BBC has heard multiple complaints that video is not being shared with defence teams under disclosure rules, despite its increasing importance in criminal cases.
We also learned that no body-worn video was disclosed from the camera of the officer who used force on Louisa.
The Met told the BBC it accepts there were errors with disclosure of evidence in Louisa and Yufial's case and apologised in a statement. Despite this, it proceeded with a second case against Louisa, alleging she had provided false information at the police station. She was recently acquitted again.
No action has been taken against any of the officers involved.
The siblings say their "two-year nightmare" has had a significant impact on their lives. Louisa deferred a law degree for three years, fearing a prosecution, while Yufial lost his job. Both blame the police misuse of body-worn video.
The Met says body-worn cameras act as an "independent witness" – and are used millions of times a year.
But forces almost never release this footage to the press after significant incidents or in response to Freedom of Information requests.
Although some forces have scrutiny panels, and regulators will review footage as part of misconduct proceedings, the police are largely responsible for scrutinising camera use themselves.
The BBC was only able to obtain footage of an assault by an officer in Wolverhampton, for which he was given a custodial sentence, after attending his criminal trial, where it was shared under legal obligations to disclose evidence.
The West Midlands Police officer had been responding to an alarm on a bus in 2021. Only one of the six attending officers had switched their cameras on.
That PC filmed the officer in charge assaulting a man – and told the court the same officer then asked him not to upload the footage on return to the station.
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Forces tend to release footage to accompany news stories which show the results of successful operations or following prosecutions in major cases.
However, in the US, some police forces have quickly released footage of significant incidents – even where their actions may face criticism.
In 2021, police in Ohio published footage of Ma'Khia Bryant, 16, being fatally shot while holding a knife. While the video supported the police's view that she appeared to be dangerous, it also raised questions about whether a Taser or other tactic could have been used.
But in the UK, Merseyside Police has repeatedly refused to provide videos of two officers switching off their cameras during an incident where a man was punched five times – a decision supported by the Information Commissioner. The force argued the footage did not provide "any tangible benefit to the public".
An unsuccessful appeal at an Information Tribunal – part of which was held as a closed hearing, meaning the footage couldn't be viewed – ruled that it should not be released. Although not unusual for information tribunal hearings, closed sessions are more usually reserved for subjects involving national security in other proceedings.
Separately, the tribunal also ruled against releasing videos showing a British Transport Police officer turning off his colleague's camera on two occasions – one during a shift where he intentionally damaged a detained person's phone, and another when a search for drugs was being carried out on a young man.
Judge Sophie Buckley found that the footage was the officer's "personal data" – and releasing video of the moment of de-activation would be "meaningless".
Police forces' attitudes towards cameras are wrong, says Baroness Louise Casey, who conducted a year-long review into the Met Police published in March, and found it lacked accountability and transparency.
"There are too many dark things that go on that we are not seeing," she told the BBC.
She said many senior police officers believe body-worn video exists almost to cover their backs: "The sooner they get their heads around the fact that it's a tool that would help them build trust they'd be on to something – instead of hiding it."
The NPCC's Jim Colwell, Acting Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police, says the vast majority of body-worn video shows good policing, but publication of footage should be the default where lawful to do so.
But he added that releasing footage was a challenge because the current legal framework – which includes data protection law – works against transparency.
The Home Office declined to say whether it planned to change how cameras were used or amend legislation to encourage forces to publish footage more regularly.
A spokesperson said: "Police use of technology, including body-worn video cameras, must be lawful, proportionate and justified."
They added that officers should follow the NPCC's guidance on standards and rules when operating cameras.
Meanwhile, Yufial, who spent two years trying to clear his name, says the use of cameras is further damaging trust in the police.
"It's labelled as protection for the public, but ultimately it protects the police," he says.
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