Since the conclusion of Whitby Goth Weekend until October, the usual issues have bubbled up to take over many social media pages. This time it would seem that the event has been tainted by two issues; the conduct of photographers at the Abbey/Church Street and the carrying of weapons inside venues.
The most important aspect of this to consider is how the Police will react to the carrying of weapons as well as the event organisers. We also have to think about common sense. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 says:
Offence of having article with blade or point in public place. (England & Wales)
(1)Subject to subsections (4) and (5) below, any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.
(2)Subject to subsection (3) below, this section applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocketknife.
(3)This section applies to a folding pocketknife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches.
(4)It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.
(5)Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (4) above, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had the article with him—
(a)for use at work;
(b)for religious reasons; or
(c)as part of any national costume.
(6)A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be liable-
[F1(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both;
(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding [F2four] years, or a fine, or both.]
(7)In this section “public place” includes any place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted access, whether on payment or otherwise.
(8)This section shall not have effect in relation to anything done before it comes into force.
I’m particularly interested in this because of my Steampunk Freddy outfit with has real cut throat razors (blunted) on each finger. I decided to try and get information directly from the Constabulary so I emailed North Yorkshire Police. I got a great email from a Sergeant stationed in York.
In it, he said “The image you provided (of the glove) gives some indication of what the item might look like, I would have to be in a position to see it to provide the best advice. The image supplied suggests the ends of the [blades] are square and appear to have no cutting edge or blade. If they did, they would come under Section 139 with the obvious risk of prosecution if carried in a public place.”
Interesting stuff for anyone carrying anything bladed over a 3inch folding pocket knife with no locking mechanism.
He continued, “I think it is worth pointing out that the relevant case law even a blunted “ butter knife” with no cutting edge has been held by the courts to be a knife, bladed or pointed article, so the best judge of whether the item you may seek to wear falls under any of these categories is you.”
Finally, he added “In relation to the defence of “National Costume”, I do not think this defence would be made out under these circumstances.
Perhaps the best advice I can give you is that if you have the item with you when you attend the festival, please attend the local police station and show it to an officer there before you wear it in public. You can then be guided by local advice at the time.”
That’s a great common sense approach. You see the Police that will patrol the events will now likely be familiar with how people dress. After all, Whitby Goth Weekend has been running for over 20 years and Asylum for seven. Therefore you may find that there’s a degree of leeway, but it’s best to check with the local Police first if only as a matter of courtesy. For newer events, it will definitely be worth visiting the local station or getting in touch beforehand.
This link goes to a PDF of the Knives and Offensive weapons information on the Government website: Knives and Offensive Weapons Information on gov.uk
Using common sense, have a look at the weapon. Is it an open blade? Has it been locked in it’s sheath? Can it get free? Could anyone unsheath it and start hurting people? For me personally, I try to keep the glove close to my chest while walking so I don’t swing my arms and maybe catch someone. That being said, it’s unlikely I’ll show it at Whitby now. I may contact Lincoln Police because I’m part of a Steampunk Superheroes and Villains group that will meet there this year.
I contacted the organisers of Whitby Goth Weekend and they’ve yet to respond regarding their official stance on carrying weapons inside buildings. Lincoln Asylum organisers have an article regarding the carrying of weapons and that employs a very common sense approach. You can read that here: Carrying weapons at Lincoln Steampunk Asylum
Update 04/05/2016: Since posting this article, I’ve been in touch with the organisers of Leeds Steampunk Market (LSM). They had seen this article and wanted it to be known that they had an occurrence where someone had carried a weapon to the Bradford market on the bus as part of their outfit. Some of the local residents – seeing someone essentially brandishing a weapon – got worried and called the Police. Three Armed Response Vehicles arrived with six armed officers. Thankfully after a chat with the organisers, the whole situation was diffused. Jo & Si who organise LSM have now decided on a strict weapons ruling in order to obviate that happening again. You are still welcome to take weapons to display as part of an outfit while at LSM, but it’s advised that you cover them up while transporting them to and from the venue. Traders selling the weapons have been advised to supply black bin bags to put them in.
For more information on replica firearms, here’s a link to the law on Imitation Firearms on the CPS website: Firearms Law on the CPS website
The other issue that concerns me and many others – and is especially annoying to the residents of Whitby – is photographers and their constant need to take pictures on gravestones at the Abbey and hounding people on Church Street. I’m still yet to climb up there and see what happens for myself but I may go next time and cause a fuss if need be. It’s entirely possible that it’s private land and as such the freedoms of a photographer don’t apply. I’ve contacted English Heritage to find that out. One person on Facebook suggested a fake gravestone that photographers and models can use if they’re really that desperate and I think that’s a great idea. However, let’s face it, why are photographers insisting on using gravestones when there’s a perfectly good ruined Abbey behind them?
While the Abbey and English Heritage are fine with photographers actually being there, then something should be done to simply deter them from disrespecting the space before it gets closed to the public – something that several residents of the town have suggested already.
Recently, Mike McCarthy – Bram Stoker Film Festival Director – wrote an open letter to the photographers at Whitby and it was published in the North Yorkshire Enquirer. I’ve transcribed it below for you to read and it takes the suggestion of a prop gravestone one step further to create an entire graveyard set! It’s an interesting idea and if done properly would look fantastic:
“We as a festival like to keep our own counsel with regards the politics and the “he said, she said” arguments which tend to prevail during and after a certain twice yearly festival in Whitby.
The biggest areas of concern seem to be centred on the photographers and their “models” posing in the St Marys church graveyard and the lack of respect bestowed on the souls buried there.
Whilst this scenario will prevail year on year until a more official line of policing can be adopted we as a film and Production Company would like to propose the following to the Scarborough Borough Council, Whitby Town council and Diocese of York.
The green belt of land at the top of the 199 steps could be utilised in a similar vein to that of a movie set. Why not build a mock graveyard, similar to the ones created specifically for movies to be used and managed for the photographers? This small movie set could be positioned to take in either the Abbey or St Mary’s church as a back drop for photographs. This movie set could be managed by a local company or maybe a volunteer team, with donations from the photographers to a local charity or for the upkeep of the props. I feel sure many of the local businesses may even sponsor the possible purchase of these props.
We as a festival would be happy to help in any way we can if this idea is embraced by the Town and community collectively.
As is the norm in these scenarios the question of planning will have to be considered. We would be happy to speak to the SBC planning department with this proposal if need be. I have spoken to the Chairman of the Whitby Dracula society and they are willing to help drive this proposal forward or will help if a committee is formed.
The legend of Dracula, Bram Stoker and the Gothic influences of Whitby both in films and literature should be embraced, it is not going to go away, and nor should it. We should seize the opportunity and turn the negative comments and arguments surrounding the graveyard and St Marys Church to our advantage. Let
s bring a bit of Hollywood into Whitbys backyard and, managed correctly with professional props, it could be a winning solution to a long drawn out problem.
Surely if we can hang painted second hand bicycles from trees and hedgerows all over the region, we can do this!
If there are any individuals, groups or businesses who would like to discuss this proposal further, please express your interests to Mike McCarthy. Festival Director. Bram Stoker International Film Festival.
But who is to blame? Goths are generally not really up for having their photograph taken. They don’t attend Whitby Goth Weekend to be models for all and sundry; they go for the atmosphere, the gigs and to meet up with friends in a mutual environment. Steampunks are arguably more willing to have their picture taken, but our subculture is one built on etiquette* and we observe the need to respect the families of the deceased buried there. Most likely it is newcomers to each culture who will be young, looking to boost a portfolio and easily manipulated by pushy photographers.
One important thought occurred to me though. Where are all these pictures? We see some of them on Flickr and some Facebook pages, but the sheer volume of photographers and the amount of photographs they take should have us swamped in pictures. But we aren’t. So where are the pictures? If they’re not being published anywhere then why are people’s memories being trampled on for that oh-so-important shot? Why are other photographers being pushed and shoved out of the way because they’re not taking a picture at that particular moment? Why was a girl chased through town a few years ago just for some photographs?
Every time Whitby Goth Weekend comes around we see the same problems time after time. Eventually the people of Whitby will get fed up and start pushing back and that could put the whole event at risk and that would be a real shame. Maybe as steampunks we could do our bit and politely tell the photographers and models standing on graves that they’re being disrespectful and ask them to take pictures elsewhere? The Church Wardens already do that, so maybe we could help? If we make enough noise then it will start to spread that these people can’t simply do as they please.
Update 06/05/2016: Whitby Goth Weekend have published a statement on their website regarding the issue of photographers and especially the recent petition to close the Abbey to the general public during the Festival.
For those that haven’t seen this yet, a petition has been started to close St Mary’s Churchyard during Whitby Goth Weekends to stop the graves being used as props for cheap photo opportunities.
We fully support the petition.
Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW) is a music festival that takes place at the Spa Pavilion in Whitby. We’re confused as to why people began to visit the town to promenade and be photographed in fancy dress outfits during our event, as this isn’t something that we’ve ever encouraged or advertised.
We think that the behaviour displayed in the churchyard is disrespectful and offensive, and despite the fact that this is not something we have anything to do with or any control over, we have made several announcements over the past few years through our website and social media requesting that people respect the churchyard.
An example from our website can be found here from as far back as October 2011: http://www.whitbygothweekend.co.uk/news.php?item=25
Unfortunately, the attitude of many of the amateur photographers causing the problem seems to be that they just don’t care, and the vicar of St Mary’s even received hate mail after the signs mentioned in the news item linked above were erected.
It has been commented to us that the behaviour at the churchyard is spoiling WGW, but the reality is that WGW continues as a music festival as it has done for the past 21 years. What is actually happening is that the reputation of the Whitby Goth Weekend music festival is being dragged down by being wrongly associated with activities that it has no association with.
Closing the churchyard during Whitby Goth Weekend as the petition suggests would seem a sensible move to stop the amateur photographers and models from using the area in such a disrespectful manner in the future, as asking them politely and pointing out why it upsets so many people has had little effect in the past.
It would seem that the organisers agree with the petition but only because they – as an event – have nothing to do with the Abbey directly (although it’s the reason that the festival is held in Whitby). They rightly blame the photographers and what they consider “fancy dress” attendees who aren’t really goth and aren’t there for the music festival that WGW started off as 22 years ago. I have to disagree with the support of the petition. I don’t think a ban of anyone attending is the right way forward. It will effectively ruin the experience for the people who aren’t there to spoil things. A more aggressive approach to educating the offenders is preferable in my opinion. They can’t be completely heartless and should understand that they’re insulting relatives by disregarding the grave locations.
I would be willing to publish a reminder on Steampunk Journal before each festival if WGW organisers would also help. Neither the goths nor the steampunks are responsible, but as regular attendees and asking the residents of Whitby to tolerate us while we swarm their small coastal town biannually we could do something to try and help. It would be a real shame if it was closed entirely.
*I’m not saying that Goths aren’t polite, I’m just trying to find different angles to each faction.