Rugby wheelchair user has police called on him for photographing 'badly placed' polling table for disabled voters

Reader-submitted image.
Reader-submitted image.

A Rugby wheelchair user had the police called on him during the European elections when he refused to delete photographs he had taken of what he described as a badly placed station.

On Thursday, May 23, wheelchair user John Robson joined thousands of other Rugbeians when he went to vote in the European elections.

His polling station was the Griffin pub on Kingsway, and when he arrived at around 6pm with his wife and children he found that a table set up for disabled voters had been positioned behind steps and left exposed - making it difficult to access and to vote in secret.

Mr Robson added that a sign advising other voters where to go was placed above the disabled table - meaning members of the public would be specifically looking in the direction of the table as they walked past.

Mr Robson said: "My friend had been down earlier that afternoon. Her son is in a wheelchair, she had a go at them, saying it's not acceptable to have that table where it is.

"You can't do a secret ballot on that table.

"Later on I went in. I'm a wheelchair user but I can walk to some extent.

"They suggested bringing a ballot down to me - I ended up going up and doing it on foot."

Mr Robson took pictures of the table and then he and his family stayed in the pub while they ate a meal.

He said: "We had finished eating, the kids were playing outside and we were chatting to staff in the pub.

"Then this woman went and sat behind the tables and she was watching me for a significant amount of time.

"I had taken three pictures to make sure I had evidence of how badly placed the table was.

"We were pretty much ready to leave and I took one more photo.

"The woman came down and said, 'you can't be taking photos in here', claiming I was breaking the secrecy of the ballot.

Mr Robson said he had taken great care to ensure he had not photographed any voter's face or anyone's ballot.

He added that he had taken the photographs from the pub area, which was open to customers.

When the woman, who Mr Robson believes works for the council, asked him to delete the photographs Mr Robson refused.

The woman then called the police.

Mr Robson said: "The police didn't arrive for another hour and by the time they got there I was gone."

When Mr Robson spoke to the Advertiser last week he said he had heard nothing more from the police.

He added that he had spoken to staff at the pub, who told him that they had not chosen where to position the table, adding that it had been the council's decision.

Although there is no specific law banning photography inside a polling station, the Electoral Commission discourages the practice in case the photograph reveals how someone has voted, or a ballot paper's unique identification number - both of which would breach the rules.

Guidance issued by the Electoral Commission states: "Ideally your polling station will be located in a fully accessible building.

"Unfortunately, in practice, this may not be the case as in some areas there may not be accessible buildings available for use as polling stations.

"If a physically disabled elector is unable to enter the polling station, the presiding officer, after informing any agents present, may take the ballot paper to the elector.

"After the ballot paper has been marked, the presiding officer must place the folded paper into the ballot box immediately.

"It is essential that the secrecy of the vote is maintained in all circumstances. The ballot box must not be left unattended or removed from the polling station at any time."

The Advertiser approached Rugby Borough Council by email for comment twice since May 24 and twice by telephone today, May 31 - but no response has been received.