FIRST there was a Facebook campaign to boycott a shopping centre where a father claimed “intimidating” security guards and police stopped him from photographing his young daughter eating an ice cream.
Then, centre management caved in to public pressure and changed their policy. And now, in a new twist to a story that has made headlines around the world, allegations emerged yesterday that the man at the heart of the row was approached by police for taking pictures of a young retail assistant.
Strathclyde Police’s communications chief said the force “felt compelled” to issue a strenuous rebuttal of Chris White’s version of events, and stressed that he “knows, or ought to know,” why he was spoken to by its officers.
The force said there was “no basis” to support the claims by the mental health worker that he was subjected to “ridiculous” and “threatening” treatment after capturing images of his four-year-old daughter, Hazel, at an ice-cream parlour in Braehead shopping centre last week.
However, Mr White last night told The Scotsman that the police account was “completely inaccurate” and said he would be taking legal advice to “pursue” the matter against police and a broadcaster.
In the latest development to a story which has seen Mr White held up as a champion of civil liberties, police said he was quizzed due to “very specific concerns” raised by members of the public in the Renfrew retail complex.
No further detail was provided, but reports yesterday, strenuously denied by Mr White, claimed he may have been taking photographs of a female sales assistant while the zip of his trousers was down.
Despite reports yesterday that a report had been sent to the procurator fiscal regarding the 45-year-old, a police spokeswoman said that, while they had written to Mr White in response to his complaint, the matter was considered “closed”.
The 570-word police statement from Rob Shorthouse, Strathclyde’s director of communications, comes in the wake of a vast social media campaign sparked by Mr White.
More than 24,000 registered their support for a boycott of the centre, which prompted plans for a demonstration and even led to Braehead’s owners, Capital Shopping Centres, overhauling its policy on photography.
However, the police’s vigorous response appeared to spark a minor backlash among Mr White’s online allies yesterday, with hundreds “unliking” his page and some condemning his “made up version of events”.
The vast majority, however, offered continuing support, and criticised the police decision to issue a statement along with its contents.
One follower, Iain Paton, wrote of the force: “They leave themselves open to accusations of innuendo and slander and possible litigation if they cannot back up their version of events with evidence, and they have jumped many steps from their normal role to the arbitrary determination of Mr White’s guilt without involving the due process of the fiscal and the courts.”
The furore began during a visit by Mr White with his daughter to Braehead last Friday afternoon, during which he said he took two images of the youngster eating ice-cream at a Joe Delucci outlet. He claims he was then approached by a member of Braehead’s security staff, who told him it was “illegal” to take photographs and asked him to delete the images from his mobile phone.
Mr White replied that his daughter was the only subject of the images, which he had uploaded to Facebook. Two police officers were then called by the guard – one of whom was “intimidating” according to Mr White – and are alleged to have told him they were “quite within their rights” under anti-terrorism legislation to confiscate his phone.
Mr White was allowed to keep his handset, but agreed to volunteer his personal details, after which he was told he would have to leave the centre.
However, Mr Shorthouse emphasised that police had “fully investigated” the incident, interviewing members of the public and examining CCTV, but said “none of the independent and objective evidence … backs up the claims made by Mr White”.
He said the incident had received “global media coverage” which had painted Braehead, Strathclyde Police and “arguably our country in a very negative light,” adding that “it is because Mr White chose to seek publicity for his account of events” that the force made public its findings.
He explained: “On reviewing all of this objective evidence, I have to tell you that we can find no basis to support the complaint which Mr White has elected to make.
“The members of the public who asked for the security staff to become involved have told us that they did so for reasons which had absolutely nothing to do with him taking photographs of his daughter. They had a very specific concern, which I am not in a position to discuss publicly, that they felt the need to report.
“The security staff were the ones who asked for police involvement. Again, this was not because Mr White said he had been photographing his daughter, but was due to the concerns that they themselves had regarding this particular incident.”
Last night, Mr White told The Scotsman that Strathclyde Police had made a number of allegations to him in a letter, and questioned why STV had claimed on its website yesterday that a report was being sent to the procurator fiscal.
“The specific allegations the police have made is that I was under the influence of alcohol, which is completely untrue – the last time I had anything to drink was Burns Night 2000.”
He added: “I’m going to be taking legal advice to pursue this issue against the police and STV. Someone has made specific allegations and information has been released somewhere.”
A spokesman for Braehead said: “We cannot comment on the outcome of the police investigation. However, following our own investigations, Braehead stands by the actions of our member of security staff and by the actions we have subsequently taken.”
No-one from Warwickshire-based Joe Delucci’s was available for comment.