The Metropolitan Police has hit back at accusations that its officers deleted images captured by news photographers at Heathrow during the recent terror alert.

Meanwhile, we have learnt that press photographers are planning to meet police and airport chiefs to discuss the issue of photographers? rights – to avoid potential clashes during any future security crackdowns.

As we reported last Friday, the Mirror’s senior staff photographer Mike Moore was understood to be among photographers whose images were deleted, according to journalists’ trade magazine Press Gazette in an article dated 18 August (in 2005 Moore was the winner of AP’s Power of Photography award).

Earlier this year the Metropolitan Police agreed to stick to new guidelines concerning their treatment of photojournalists covering news events. A crucial part of the rules state: ?Once images are recorded we have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence.? [See AP 25 March 2006].

Freelance photographer Paul Stewart ? who helped draw up the guidelines ? told us he is aware of images being deleted from two press photographers at Heathrow.

He also claimed that on 12 August ? two days after the uncovering of the alleged terror plot – all press photographers from Sunday newspapers were ?evicted? from a Heathrow terminal, adding that a photographer from Associated Press was ?escorted out of the airport and told never to come on to airport property again?.

But Scotland Yard?s chief press officer Bob Cox yesterday told us that the Metropolitan Police had not received any complaints from photographers about officers deleting images.

Cox confirmed that the police/photographer guidelines would apply to officers operating at BAA-run airports, even though they are privately run.

?The fact that something is in a newspaper [Press Gazette] doesn?t mean that it is fact. I am not aware of any complaints that it actually happened,? said Cox. But he admitted: ?There certainly were incidents involving police and photographers but it is an issue which I think you should ask BAA about? BAA certainly do implement their own bylaws.?

Stewart told us he is planning to help arrange talks between BAA, press photographers and the Met to avoid any such problems arising in future: ?We?d like to try and deal with situations without official complaints because that just ties everybody up,? he explained. ?If we can resolve these things in the spirit of the guidelines that is what they are for.?

BAA’s head of media relations Mark Mann told us: ?Clearly, at times of tightened national security, walking around an airport with a camera just firing off shots unescorted and without a permit isn?t a very wise thing to do.?

Stewart believes that BAA?s own accredited airport-based photographers – who cover day-to-day events at Heathrow – are not able to cover major news stories because there are not enough of them to cope. He said newspapers therefore need to dispatch their own snappers to cover such incidents. ?Three photographers couldn?t handle it,? he said.

The Met?s Bob Cox told us that if an officer had been accused of deleting images then police would investigate any such complaint.

BAA advises the press to contact its media centre for a permit before visiting Heathrow. Mann said that, once they have a permit, photographers will be escorted to a designated press area. ?We?ll do everything we can to get them over to that area to enable them to get the pictures they need, as and when possible.?

Mann claimed photographers were ?well looked after? at Heathrow during the latest terrorism alert. ?We actually fed and watered them for the first couple of days,? he told us.?