Man carrying rose caught on CCTV carrying a knife

CCTV standing It is fair to say we are not the greatest fans of closed circuit television here at Big Brother Watch, but this latest surveillance error is one of the worst we have seen yet.

Stephen McAleer was walking home with his fiancee when his local police force saw him on CCTV carrying a knife. Stephen had previous convictions for assault, prompting the cops to swoop down and throw him in prison for three months.

Justice done? Well no, because it wasn't actually a knife…as the Daily Record explains:

Cops viewing CCTV thought the single rose Stephen McAleer had in his hand as he walked home was a knife.

He was arrested and sent to Barlinnie Jail on remand. And 28-year-old Stephen's three month prison ordeal only ended when he was cleared at a two-day trial this week.

A CCTV expert enhanced the images and testified that the item he was carrying was a rose in a plastic sleeve, which tapers to a knife-like point at the end of the stem.

Stephen's lawyer, Andy Phillips, of Liam O'Donnell and Co, said: "It is extremely unfortunate that Stephen was remanded when, if the police or Crown had had the evidence analysed by someone with the requisite expertise, this could have been avoided."

Clearly Stephen had past convictions which would have heavily influenced the perceptions of the policemen watching the footage. But if it is so easy for preconcieved notions and prejudice to change what people think they are seeing, how reliable can surveillance footage ever really be?

Stephen McAleer lost three months to prison; for some people the simple trauma of being thrown in jail would have a profound effect on their lives.

It is not a stretch to say that the next person whose actions are mistaken because of grainy CCTV footage or viewer prejudice could be you.

By Dylan Sharpe

Posted by on Aug 31, 2010 in CCTV | 27 Comments


  1. Bill St. Clair
    31st August 2010

    Of course another problem here is that ANYONE would be arrested for carrying a knife.

  2. Mr smith
    31st August 2010

    so ? once guilty of a crime you are forever guilty.pre -conceptions ? probabilty? just cause? lazy policemen more like.

    31st August 2010


  4. Purlieu
    31st August 2010

    Good job he wasn’t carrying a table leg.

  5. NeverSurrender
    31st August 2010

    This shocking case is yet another example of the perils of living under constant surveillance. Being watched everywhere you go so that you can be penalised for the slightest slip up is bound to lead to mistakes. Having to prove you innocence all the time is not a natural or healthy way to live.

  6. john malpas
    1st September 2010

    What was he holding when the police “sweeped down” on him?

  7. Sati Pera
    1st September 2010

    When you say you are not a big fan of cctv I am assuming you do not include Alex (your boss) among your number. It was he who when he worked for for David Cameron stated that it was David Cameron who was responsible for bringing the benefits of cctv to us. Does Alex have any real opinions and values or are they only as temporary as the job he is paid to do? Also, why does Big Brother Watch pretend to be separate from the Daily Mail like Tax Payers alliance from whom you get your money, despite displaying on your web site that BBW is part of the Tax Payers Alliance.

  8. Alex Deane
    1st September 2010

    Well hello again “Satipera,”
    1) I note that you have never taken up our challenge to say what you actually disagree with on any of our posts. You just keep posting new, unpleasant posts, ignoring any constructive attempts to engage with you.
    2) I don’t say things that I don’t believe.
    I have explained this CCTV point many times. The relevant piece is here
    for anyone that would like to see the original material.
    I pointed out in that piece (written, incidentally, after I worked for Cameron) that in the course of my work at the Bar I had…
    “watched the evidence unfold in a case of brutal and unprovoked murder in court last year. The case was solved solely by CCTV evidence. I have no qualms in admitting that watching that evidence was the most upsetting thing I’ve ever had to do, and I simply cannot imagine how upsetting it was for the relatives of the victim. But I know that they must have been comforted by the conviction of the killer. I also know that in that pre-Parliamentary incarnation Tony Blair mocked, David Cameron was instrumental in the introduction of the network of CCTV cameras.
    You may or may not agree with CCTV cameras (indeed, before working in the criminal justice system, I was less than sure myself). But regardless of your position, I think it’s difficult to casually dismiss the work David Cameron did whilst working on such policies. Compare it with the pre-Parliamentary political activities of Blair and Brown – Brown was writing pamphlets calling for the nationalisation of supermarkets, and Blair was marching for CND.”
    That’s the context in which I was mentioning CCTV. My thinking is influenced by my experience of working for years in sometimes unpleasant cases in criminal law. What’s the source of your own insights? Furthermore, and more importantly, these are complex questions and quite profound ones. Would you rather one didn’t think about such issues, and admit that one’s thinking develops? You would prefer someone to never think about issues, or allow experience or examples to change their opinions? If that’s the kind of “debate” you’re interested in… oh well.
    And as you will see… oh, pretty much anywhere on our site, we’re not automatically hostile to technology, which has a place in law enforcement. CCTV, used proportionately, for a specified purpose, can be reasonable (e.g. at airport security). On the other hand, blanket use, just in case, of all of us, on a ubiquitous basis, is wrong. That’s our point.
    3) We haven’t “pretended” anything – our affiliation with the TPA is on the front of the website. Once again, Satipera, for – I think – the 4th or 5th time, look up and to the right. how are we “pretending” to be separate?
    4) Please now actually engage with responses on here, rather than waiting for a few weeks and then slinging more hostile comments here. It’s puerile.
    5) A separate point, for the first time: you’re getting close to ad hominems here. Watch your tone please.

  9. Budvar Yorks
    1st September 2010

    The latest “knife” legislation is typical NuLab.
    We already had sufficient laws with regard to carrying knives in public places where you could carry with a good reason.
    A good reason would be the local fishing club down the river bank hacking back the brambles for the start of the season and not selling drugs on a street corner or divey pub with a machette inside your jacket.
    The current blanket ban has old ladies being tazered whilst walking out of asda with a new bread knife or landscape gardeners being brought before the courts for having a scythe and a bill hook in the back of the van!!

  10. David A
    3rd September 2010

    I think these kind of articles do, to some degree, promote scare tactics.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of CCTV, but I also feel this article is missing important information, as detailed below:
    1) why does the article state ‘the cops swooped down on him and throw him in prison’? The police alone do not have this authority. Why the use of ‘cops’? The problem here appears not to be the police (who may have made an honest mistake), but the process afterward. Unfortunately, the article does not detail this at all.
    2) evidence would have been required to keep him locked up. If that was only the CCTV footage, there would be a strong basis for both compensation and an internal review. Again the article makes no reference to this.
    This article is quite sensationalist, aims to put the police in a bad light, and portrays Stephen McAleer as a defenseless victim. Somehow, this makes it ring a bit false to me. I’m not suggesting it is not true, but it seems to be only focused on the bit that will bother people. I don’t think such sensationalism works, as far as making a good point.
    Quite frankly, lawyers could have a field day with this, if the facts are so straight-forward.
    David A

  11. Chris
    3rd September 2010

    There’s little doubt ‘that lawyers will have a field day with this’ & good on them. The false arrest & certainly the subsequent unlawful detention was made after he had disposed of the flower. I’m quite sure he protested as the time that it was a flower & not a knife yet the police, being utterly biased, chose not to investigate further & caused him to be remanded. It was found up to the defence to prove it was a flower when as has been said its the police who’s job it is to collect ALL of the evidence, & had they done done it BEFORE trial they would have saved considerable costs & the now undoubted compensation

  12. Tom
    3rd September 2010

    Our very own Keystone Cops do give us a good laugh don’t they? Unless you are on the receiving end of course.

  13. A passer by
    8th September 2010

    Hmmm… arrested with a dangerous rose in a public place. Impressive.
    You mention the profound effect on lives in the article. I think that should be emphasized.
    The person could lose their career, marriage, family and home through such a ‘simple mistake’. The risks are too high for simple mistakes and gung-ho assumptions of guilt.
    My 2 cents

  14. Dream
    13th September 2010

    Are you telling me that the past convictions of the Suspect made the police view the CCTV coverage through rose tinted specs?

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