Armed UK Police Raid House Over Facebook Picture Showing Toy Weapon In Background

from the let's-get-rational dept

One of the reasons Techdirt rails against exaggerated responses to supposed terrorist threats is that it has caused police forces around the world to lose all sense of proportion — literally, in the case of this UK story from the Daily Mail.

It began when Ian Driscoll decided to post a picture to his Facebook page. It was of an Action Man doll, accompanied by a toy Alsatian dog. Why? you might ask. Well, “as a laugh”, he says, because the Action Man figure looked a lot like him, and he had a real Alsatian — which sounds entirely reasonable. What Driscoll did not note at the time, though, was that lurking in the background of the picture was another toy: a model mortar.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later, someone else spotted that toy mortar and, mindful of the incessant UK government propaganda about terrorists being everywhere, duly over-reacted and reported the image. Even more unfortunately, the police also over-reacted — to the extent of sending five officers, two armed with sub-machine guns (and you thought they didn’t carry them in the UK), ready to smash down Driscoll’s front door and go in with guns blazing against this supposed terrorist cell.

Luckily, Driscoll was there, and was able to defuse the situation by showing them the mortar in question. He was able to point out that it was in fact only slightly larger than the nearby Playstation that was clearly visible in the snap he had posted, and considerably smaller than the table that was also prominent in the Facebook picture. He might even have pointed out that the figure and dog in his upload were quite obviously toys to anyone who spent more than three seconds examining the picture. The police had presumably decided not to waste those precious three seconds before acting. Instead, as a spokesperson later said:

‘We are sure that the community would rather we acted quickly on information given to us of this nature, in case it had turned out to be a weapon.’

Well, no, actually: what the community would really like is for the police to use some intelligence before reaching for the sub-machine guns. If they had just stopped and looked carefully at the picture, it would have been evident that there was no possible threat here. And that’s likely to be the case for many other incidents around the world where the police have assumed the worst.

That not only represents a huge waste of their valuable time and resources, it also perpetuates the corrosive idea that we should be constantly afraid and ready to report anything and anyone odd or vaguely suspicious, no matter how absurd it would seem to anyone looking at things rationally. This then creates a self-sustaining loop of public fear and police over-reaction. It’s time to scale the rhetoric back, and to make common-sense judgments common again.

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Comments on “Armed UK Police Raid House Over Facebook Picture Showing Toy Weapon In Background”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Mike, Mike, Mike… (!!) I’ve never seen such a pro-terrorism stance in my entire life. All you do is spread FUD about the Government when it’s clear they are acting to protect you. I pray that you never find yourself in a situation where the Government cannot act swiftly to protect you. You see, the mortar is clearly a small scale model clearly assembled to produce the real thing in large scale by a dangerous terrorist (?!!). And as if God wanted to help me prove a point there’s a PLAYSTATION in the room! The insane fundamentalist xenophobe Muslim (?!) was either using video games to hone his killing skills or worse, he was being influenced by those games into building that mortar so he could go to Batman 25: The Dark Knight Brushes His Teeth premiere in order to massacre innocent people.

For God sake Mike, you should get psychological treatment. Your conspiracy theory obsessive compulsive disorder has reached absurd levels.

Disclaimer: The author of this comment strongly believes the authorities will understand this is a fictional post and will not raid Techdirt searching for potentially dangerous games and DH nude pictures.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: Re:

Really loved this part:

Gloucestershire police spokeswoman Alexa Collicott said: ?The information was given to us in good faith and we acted with good intentions. We are sure that the community would rather we acted quickly on information given to us of this nature, in case it had turned out to be a weapon.

But they forgot to use what should be the most important tool in their arsenal, their brains (and the road to hell is already paved with enough “good intentions” and “I was only following orders”).

I mean why not just simply find the guys house and “nuke it from orbit” with good intentions, of course. After all “It’s the only way to be sure”. Sure, they used a “measured response” appropriate to the situation, but they didn’t “measure” anything (See “Worlds Biggest Remote Control” in picture to get my meaning).

Doctor Who would have happily kicked their ass out of the TARDIS if they pulled some crap like that and I and others would have cheered him on.

DogBreath says:

Re: What about the sub-machine gun?

Did they not see the figure is clearly carrying a sub-machine gun? I hope at the very least they confiscated that.

That will only happen when he tries to board a plane.

?Safety Threat?? Toy Soldier?s ?Firearm? Banned from UK Flight

“A couple boarding an international flight at England?s Gatwick airport unknowingly set off alarms when they tried to pass a small British military figurine through security in one of their carry-on bags.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Well I don’t think I want officers who mistake elderly blind men with white canes as sword wielding samurais to be issued submachineguns. Clearly, you can’t trust them to use their own judgement. And its obvious the public’s observational skills are just as flawed. So I guess we’re stuck with letting the police bust down our doors to rifle through our toy boxes.

BBC link

Anonymous Coward says:

Base on local history over the last 200 years it will be a day in glory when the Yankee hate bigots stop their continuous hate campaign against the South.

Based on that the only thing that is going to rain the forces of totalitarianism in is ample fire power combined a social movement based on total destruction of the professional hate bastards which will only come about when phrase for hate is converted into total disgust at the idea that someone else is going to be my protector without them becoming my slave master.

This is back to Mow’s idea that power comes out of the barrel of a gun which means only those with the guns have the power and everybody else is a slave to the power holders.

bigpallooka (profile) says:

LMFAO "...guns blazing..."

Really? Every facet of this story from the a member of the public reporting the photo, the polices action regarding that photo, Glyn’s article reporting on the incident and one or two of the responses show an inclination toward exaggeration and a taste for dramatic fiction. If you want to be taken seriously leave out these fictional exaggerations.
The British police do not carry firearms however special squads may be armed for specific purposes. They did not enter the man’s house guns blazing. The article was not written by Mike. Insane ranting about Mike’s mental state claiming to be fictional just look stalkerish. All round FAIL here.

Valkor (profile) says:

Re: LMFAO "...guns blazing..."

No they didn’t enter with guns blazing, but they were ready to. As you say, this was a “special squad”, and they were sent out for ZERO logical reason. I don’t know what warrant procedures are in the UK, but obviously there was no oversight or probable cause equivalent.

This is how people holding cell phones and kitchen knives get “accidentally” shot.

Anonymous Coward says:

What probably happened. The police had a report of this guy with a mortar. They sent a couple of cars out to investigate (as they should if this is reported). He anwsered the door and explained the situation. The cops left while laughing. The media (techdirt) gets ahold of the story and makes a big fkin deal out of it.

“to the extent of sending five officers, two armed with sub-machine guns”

What do you want them to take to a house with a reported guy with a mortar. Pepper spray???

Typical media, embellishing a non-story to make it a story. Techdirt has a hard on for any government action and looks to make a big deal out of nothing. And the sheep continue to follow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“What do you want them to take to a house with a reported guy with a mortar. Pepper spray???”

“Reported” mortars are actually harmless when compared with ACTUAL mortars, so it’s safe to engage a suspect with a “reported” mortar using less-than-lethal methods, like going up to his door and asking “can we check your house for mortars? Some moron reported that you had a REAL one.”.

Some Guy says:

Re: Re:

What do you want them to take to a house with a reported guy with a mortar. Pepper spray???

Well why not? A mortar is an indirect-fire weapon with a high arc, so it’s not as if he can use it when the police are inside the house, or even on the front doorstep.

And if he sees them coming down the road and starts lobbing bombs on their heads out of the bedroom window, he’s going to be behind cover, so the sub-machine guns aren’t going to help there either.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What do you want them to take to a house with a reported guy with a mortar. Pepper spray???

Pepper spray would have been the better option, yes.

Mortars are worse than worthless as short range weapons, and a short range weapon is what you’d need to attack someone knocking on your door. Even if it were real, it posed no serious threat to the officers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If by chance the owner wasn’t home would they be justified to bust his door down and search for deadly weapons based solely on this screenshot? I’m sure they assumed he had other weapons in the house which explains the assault squad. The prudent course is to examine the situation so you don’t run into an unexpected obstacle. But more often than not we see law enforcement ratchet up their reaction to 11 in an effort to out-firepower the opposition. Yes, they should investigate a tip. But that investigation shouldn’t always be led with a SWAT team.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

One would expect the minimum to be done like make sure it was not a prank and there was actually some danger to begin with.

WTF is wrong with you people?

Now the police can go into everywhere and shoot dead anyone on “allegations” alone and come out saying they are sorry but the community would want us to shoot first and ask questions later?

At least this one didn’t die like the other poor sod in the tube.

Lord Binky says:

‘We are sure that the community would rather we acted quickly on information given to us of this nature, in case it had turned out to be a weapon.’

That is ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’ logic. I do not think the public prefers you to over react then analyze a situation. It is also dangerous to the Police.

If you’re against an strategic minded terrorist and they knew that’s all it required for the police to charge in…. well that’s call bait, and a REAL terrorist could have the house rigged, the street rigged, and any place the police would be when raiding a house (as stated in the police’s own standard operating procedure). I guess it’s just easier to ignore all that and pick on safe targets to pretend you’re working.

Dreddsnik says:

Re: Stop the gun BS

I know that this is a sensitive issue in the UK ..

” The results have not been what proponents of the act wanted. Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. “

What would you propose to ‘help’ ?
Clearly panicky , over the top police actions don’ help either.

Gregg says:

It's everywhere

Complete over the top Police reaction! We had a case in Canada last year similar to this reported incident. A girl in public school (kindergarten or grade 1) drew a picture of her dad shooting bad guys and monsters with a gun. The teacher and principal call Child Services and the Police to the school. When the father came to pick up his child, he was arrested, taken to the station and strip searched (not sure how you put a gun somewhere under your nards but hey they looked there) they searched his home and took his other children away for the time being. In the end they concluded there was no gun and the man got his life back the next day.

But really, the over reaction to a child making a picture is ridiculous. The School Board, the Police and the City all state they did the appropriate response to the issue. This man most likely will not be allowed to ever go to many other countries as there are police records of him relating to a Gun search and investigation. Mere records of Police involvement is enough to bar someone from entering the US from Canada. Not to mention that he was stripped searched, home searched, lost 24 hours of his life, was helpless in protecting his children and basically had no protection or rights! and not even charged let alone any evidence at all.

The bad guys will be bad guys, but the good guys are the ones taking the brunt from excessive policing. Where are our rights! where is the proportion!

here is one link to the story

Gregg says:

Re: Re: It's everywhere

There are examples all over the place. A few years ago (I’m going from memory here) a home in Gatineau Quebec, was raided (no knock policy) and the owner of the home was startled and shot a cop coming through the door. The cop died and the individual (through 3 layers of courts) was finally released and charges dropped for murder (murder 1 when killing a police officer). Needless to say, the raid was done poorly and a life was lost. I’m not sure of the details, but this is an example where the police took a loss on a poorly ran raid.

Raids put lives in danger, polices lives too. They can not be done without due process and proper checking or lives and property are put at risk for unnecessary reasons.

Police don’t need to really change how they do work, just stop being lazy on the investigation before rushing to perform a raid on a house.

Wa co Texas rings a bell. That is an example where a raid went bad! and more force would not have helped in that case. Maybe a polite knock on the door and “may we speak to ..” could have ended that situation without a loss of life?

Anonymous Coward says:

Raids need to stop

You know, if police keep “raiding” houses like this, some innocent person is going to end up getting shot, possibly killed. How many have been maimed, killed, or had their lives ruined already, and how many are yet to come. How many more “raids” do we need to realize the error of our ways.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Look at it from the Gov't Employee's point of view.

Look at it from the Gov’t Employee’s point of view.
We either send someone around or, if the mortar is actually real

Let’s stop right there and think about this. Look at the picture again. There is no way, whatsoever, that this could be a picture of an actual mortar. There is no reasonable explanation for what happened, unless it’s “The Daily Mail made it up”.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m sure the official police report would read something like “On (such and such a date) Law enforcement officials were alerted to a possible terrorist weapons cache. An armed team was sent out to investigate and contain the terrorist threat. The incident was resolved without any casualties. This is another great victory for our fine country and highly trained police force. We must remain vigilant in our fight against terrorism.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Cry me a river. Toys have been misused as weapons forever, whatever the weapon type.

If you thought the UK cops didn’t carry automatic weapons, you need to go out more and stop watching CNN and FOX and Hollywood. Read a little and learn.

“Then two weeks later, he used the mortar to bomb a school” and cops were heavily criticized for not going anything. See where this is going?

Nothing about this was over the top and I would not expect anything less from any logical law enforcement. I guess in the states you’re so used to illogical enforcement…. yeah.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wouldn’t own fake mortar or any fake weapons for that matter, especially not put them up on facebook. Yeah I wouldn’t care if it was my house. I simply wouldn’t give them any good reason to bust down the door.

What are they supposed to do? Knock and hope you’re just a nice person with toys as opposed to a nutcase that’ll blast your way through cops? Nice try but no cigar.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Then something close to this?

I hope it is not painted olive drab, black, silver, white or any other threatening color, otherwise he might get a unwanted visit from the local constabulary.

Perhaps he could get away with just painting around the front tip area “safety orange”, so the cops will think it is only a toy telescope.

Make sure to tell him not to point it toward planets, stars, nebula, galaxies or any other celestial phenomena, unless he plans to shoot them… with a camera, of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Small mortars...?

Regardless of the model figure – given that base-boards (we call them skirting-boards) in older houses in England are often 8″-10″ high, plus the relative height of what appears to be a window-ledge, I don’t think it was at all unreasonable for the police to have surmised that it might have been a real mortar, such as one of the smaller 2″ mortars – in which case their actions waere entirely justified and appropriate.

Seems to me their actions were also pretty bloody mild compared with what we’ve come to expect from the US, Canada, or even New Zealand these days!

DogBreath says:

Re: Small mortars...?

Regardless of the model figure – given that base-boards (we call them skirting-boards) in older houses in England are often 8″-10″ high, plus the relative height of what appears to be a window-ledge,

If that were the case, then they conveniently ignored the “would have to be gigantic remote” and even worse the Playstation 2 Slim to the right standing up on its side with known dimensions (230mm wide = 9 inches wide) right next to the skirting-board that would have immediately let them know the approximate height of said skirting-board, and use this to figure out how high the pictured mortar was in realty without having to set one foot inside this mans house.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out, but in this day and age it’s much easier to get a warrant and have law enforcement look like fools, than to do the simple math.

4THOT says:

This is a good thing

Frankly, if there was a presumed mortar in my city I’d LOVE police to overreact to that! Everyone condescends police for not “doing their job” when a tragedy happens, but when they DO their job in this case they are told by the internet “oh god what idiots, man I could have told anyone that wasn’t real!” but here’s the thing, it’s their call to make and in my opinion they made the right one. Yes, it COULD have been fake, yes, they COULD have taken a bit more time to investigate the photo. However, it COULD have been real, and lives COULD have been in grave danger and from the point that they receive that information forward it was their responsibility to protect their people from potential threats of this nature.

Stop condemning police who do their job, this is EXACTLY what they should be doing, they didn’t shoot anyone but they IMMEDIATELY resolved the situation.

dudhit (profile) says:

This only shows the scaremongering propaganda that is being used to perpetuate the fear, and implanting itself in my subconscious.

Every time I catch the train and see the sign telling me to call the police if I see an unattended bag, which I never see. unattended rubbish on the other hand…

When I see unattended rubbish on the train, or at the train station I really am tempted to call the bomb squad, cause;
i) without touching the seemingly placed object, how can i assume it’s just rubbish, and it COULD be an explosive
(there was a news piece on a tabloid show a year ago about kids selling a chemical mix that fits in a drinking can and gets serious flamage when it goes off)
ii) if there wasn’t all this garbage lying around, then a bomb would be suspicious. so now we’re pretty numb to any real threats
iii) gotta get the these people to work for their money and I’m sure they’re not getting enough calls. thus perpetuating the taxes put aside to justify the department.

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