FW: Police accused of abusing powers as anti-terrorism stop and sear

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2009-05-03 10:13:52

  www.telegraph.co.uk/…   Police accused of abusing powers as anti-terrorism stop and searches treble The number of people who police in England and Wales stop and search under anti-terrorism laws has trebled in just a year, but only a handful result in arrests.   By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor Last Updated: 4:57PM BST 30 Apr 2009 Nearly 90 per cent of the searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police, which saw a 266 per cent increase Photo: GETTY Officers were last night accused of abusing their powers after it emerged just one per cent of around 124,000 “suspects” targeted in 2007/08 were arrested – and only a fraction of those were for terrorism related offences. Nearly 90 per cent of the searches were carried out in London by the Metropolitan Police, which saw a 266 per cent increase, with the aftermath of the attempted nightclub bombing in the Haymarket in the summer of 2007 blamed for the rise. The level of stop and searches for other suspected offences also increased to more than a million last year – the highest for a decade. There was also a sharp rise in the number of times the public had to justify their activities to police in so-called “stop and account” incidents. Members of the public were stopped and questioned by officers more than 2.3 million times last year after a rise of 26 per cent. It is the equivalent of one in every 20 people being stopped, although that proportion plummets to one in ten for the black population. Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “People will be highly suspicious about the scale of stop and search under terror laws. “This will only serve to reinforce the view that many anti-terror powers are being used for unrelated purposes.” Home Office figures showed a total of 124,687 people were stopped and search under anti-terror laws in 2007/8, up from 41,924 in 2006/7. But only 1,271 arrests – or one per cent – were made as a result and just 73 of those were for terror offences. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “These statistics will only fuel the fear that anti-terror powers are being overused by the police and for reasons other than they were intended for. “When only one in nearly 2,000 stop and searches under the Terrorism Act results in an arrest for a terror offence, questions must be asked about how effectively these powers are being used. “There is a real risk that indiscriminate or excessive use of stop and search may alienate the communities we rely most on for intelligence, which is a far more crucial tool in the fight against terrorism.” Most other police searches are carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which were up nine per cent last year to 1,045,923, nearly half of which were for suspected drugs offences. It was the highest total since 1998/99 and the fourth year in a row that numbers have increased. Met offices carried out almost 400,000 stop and searches – the equivalent of one in every 19 people in the capital. Using both terror and non-terror powers, 1,223,860 people and vehicles were stopped and searched by police in England and Wales last year, a 17 per cent increase. Black people remain proportionately the most likely to be stopped and increasingly so. Black “suspects” are now almost eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, up from a seven to one ratio the year before, according to separate figures from the Ministry of Justice. Asians are more than twice as likely to be stopped than whites. The MoJ figures also showed officers used powers to stop people and demand they account for themselves some 2.35 million times last year, separate figures revealed. That was up by a quarter on the previous year and is set to get even higher after the Home Office pledged to make it easier for officers by scrapping a form they must fill in every time they stop a member of the public. The figures on ethnicity showed black people were almost three and a half times more likely than white people to be stopped on the street and questioned by police. Forces began to record statistics on the ethnicity members or of the public called to stop and account following recommendations made in the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence. Corinna Ferguson, a lawyer for human rights group Liberty, said: “A threefold increase in anti-terror stop and search is the clearest signal that these powers are being misused. “Only six in 10,000 people stopped were arrested for terrorism, let alone charged or convicted. “And the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities is even greater than in previous years.” Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said the rise in anti-terror stop and search last year was in part linked to the failed bombings in London’s Haymarket. He said: “It is important that the police have the right powers available to keep our communities safe. “Stop and search is a power aimed at disrupting crime and responding to intelligence and levels of risk. “It is an important tool for the police – helping tackle knife crime and fight terrorism. “But we are clear that its use must be proportionate, which is why there is clear guidance about when and how these powers should be exercised and we are working with the police and community groups to ensure that the powers are implemented fairly. “Today’s statistics show an increase in the use of terrorist-related stop and searches which reflects the police response to the terrorist threat during the 2007-2008 reporting period, most notably the events in Haymarket, London.”

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