County Durham, where it’s now “illegal” to photograph miners’ banners

The Castle Dene Shopping Centre sit in the middle of Peterlee, the town in the heart of the East Durham coalfield built at the request of local miners in the late 1940s. I was there today, and when I entered the covered part of the centre via the southern entrance, I noticed that the high on the walls were pictures of union banners from surrounding collieries such as Dawdon, Easington and South Hetton.

The pictures were small and their colours were muted, so it would have been easy to miss them among the shadows and shop signage.

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You could say it was a half-hearted attempt to honour the area’s history. The town is named after the miners’ leader and politician Peter Lee, so some might say his life and beliefs ought to be more apparent to visitors, but then at least the banner pictures were something.

I don’t know what Peter Lee would have made of the branch of Perfect Home lurking beneath the South Hetton banners. Perfect Home is one of those rent to own shops like Brighthouse (it is owned by Brighthouses’ formers owners) that prey on people who can’t get bank credit by offering easy credit at 60%-plus APR. It was under a banner bearing the phrase “Workers of all lands unite, you have nothng to lose but your chains.”

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As I was taking the above photograph I was approached  by a security guard in a hi-vis jacket.

“Did you know you can’t take pictures in here, buddy?” he said. To his credit, he looked embarrassed to be saying it.

“Why?” I said.

“You’re not allowed to take photographs in the shopping centre,” he replied, as if using different words would conceal his uncertainty. I asked why again.

“Because it’s against the law.”

“”What law is that, then?”

“Counter terrorism.”

Counter terrorism?”

“Yes.”

“You must be kidding?”

“And copyright. You don’t own the copyright of what your photographing.”

“I AM PHOTOGRAPHING A PICTURE OF A BLOODY TRADE UNION BANNER FROM A PIT THAT SHUT IN THE 1980s!” I said. I was annoyed. Not so much by being stopped, rather by the sense of a company like Perfect Home having protection like this. “I don’t know who owns the copyright on that but I’m pretty sure it’s not Castle Dene shopping centre.”

“It’s the shops. They own copyright on their shopfronts. You could photograph and use those photos anywhere.”

“Surely copyright law stops you publishing pictures, not taking them for your own use?”

“I’d just not take pictures, bud. It’s not worth it.” We continued like this until the head of security arrived. She said, “If it’s the banners it’s alright. We thought you wanted the shops. Write to the manager and tell him why you need to photograph the centre.”

“OK,” I said.

Then I went out, waited until they’d gone, and went back and finished photographing the banner pictures on shops.

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