I have spent years deriding our teenage populous for their lack of knowledge of current affairs. This started a few years back when it was claimed that Margaret Thatcher was the current PM and, upon mentioning ‘John Lennon’, a student asked, ‘is that the ginger guy Sir?’

I got to the bottom of this cultural misnomer eventually when I discovered that teenagers don’t watch TV. Even my fifteenager, after I installed a TV in her room, turned down my offer of hooking up terrestrial as ‘I only watch Netflix’, and it seems she is not alone. I enquired what they watch instead and unanimously the response was, besides Netflix, YouTube videos.

Anyhow, to cut a long, and ultimately dull opening gambit short, I began a few months ago, whilst having my post-work lie down (a sign of age) by dipping my toe into this curious YouTube world and I, for one, am now hooked.

My current go to is ‘auditing’ videos. For the uninitiated these are (always) balaclava’d up men, who spend their days attempting to get a rise out of the police or employees of businesses across the UK. On their side they have some basic grasp of the law as they stand, for example, at the entrance to a police station car park. When approached they attempt to take charge of the situation, as they know their rights! They demand the officer's ID number and name before chiding the constable for not informing the auditor that they are recording. When asked why they are filming they inevitably state it’s in the ‘public interest’ before refusing to give their details as they don’t have to unless they are committing (or suspected of committing) a crime.

Generally, at this point one of three things happens. 1) The police are called, or if it is the police on the receiving end, back up is called. 2) The security team (or police) know the YouTuber and watch their videos and let them go about their business (rare) or 3) the police will attend and then search the auditor claiming section 43 of the terrorism act as they bleat about hostile reconnaissance.

Legally the auditors are doing nothing wrong. With the sword of righteousness by their side their mantra is PINAC, aka, ‘photography is not a crime’ as they claim, correctly, that filming from public land, or taking a drone over private property (as the airspace cannot be owned, unless there are CAA flight restrictions) is perfectly legal activity. Also, if there is an implied ‘public right of access’, i.e., no gates or barriers blocking public access, then it is fair game, be it a prison waiting room or a private business help desk.

Now, as much as these videos used to anger me due to the complete waste of police time when they could be dealing with crimes that really matter such as, say, rape or murder, the issues that strike me each time I watch them are these: Firstly how young coppers look these days (or maybe it’s because I’m no longer a chicken of the spring variety), secondly, how I would not wish to do their job as the public attempt to rile them by shoving a camera phone in their face as they go about their duties, but thirdly, and most alarmingly, how little large swathes of the police force actually know about the detail of the laws they are there to enforce.

Often the police claim they don’t need to identify themselves when asked, before stating that filming of private property from public land is illegal, or quite often it’s the misnomer that individuals are under a legal duty to provide their name and details if asked, or the misuse of terrorism act legislation (section 44 is often quoted when it is no longer a ‘thing’) before unlawful searches are undertaken to be followed, inevitably, by a claim for wrongful arrest.

And yet, after months of watching these videos and, despite similar storylines playing out in every one, I have come over somewhat to the auditor’s side. Should we just do as told and accept misinformation as we are wanton to do? The main reason for auditors’ existence, I might surmise, is that claiming compensation for wrongful arrest (and assault) if the police have gone ‘hands on’ can be rather lucrative and run into the thousands. With no other career options, and working your own schedule you could, feasibly, buy a camera and a drone, set up a YouTube channel and become a professional litigator as you rile the rozzers and sit around and wait for the pay-off. Not bad work if you can stomach it, and I for one will continue watching as I turn away from the news and take a nosey at how PC untrained tackles the latest wind-up outside of Staines police station…

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher