Devil in the Details

Police have bowed to mounting opposition and are to significantly reduce their use of controversial terrorism powers that allow them to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion, the Guardian has learned. [...]

Usually an officer requires "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing to stop someone, but officers have been able to use the power across London since the July 7 terrorist attacks.

Under the new plans, Scotland Yard will effectively remove an officers' power to stop people without reason, although they will keep the power for special circumstances when authorised by senior officers. [...]

"There is no requirement to have any reasonable grounds to conduct the search. This power reverses a fundamental principle in that no suspicion of wrongdoing is required."
                 -- AC John Yates

So, the first reaction is "Great! We're finally getting some movement on this ridiculous issue!" but the second is "Hmm, hang on a minute". We know that in the last year alone the Met has committed 154,293 S44 searches without a single terrorism conviction. We know that this is just the number of searches for S44: not including S50, S60 or any of the other, slightly more reasonable ones. Nor does it include existing uses of S43, which is what they're obliged to use if they actually suspect you of terrorism, rather than just openly abusing the Terror laws to permit discretionary searching. We also know that S44 abuse has been explicitly racist: everyone has the figure that in 2007-8, searches of black people rose 322%, while for Asians it was 277% and for white people,185%. And this grand, 'radical' (as the Guardian puts it) reform means what exactly? They're not only admitting openly that they stop people for no reason, they're clearly stating that they plan to carry on doing it! The details?

The exceptions will be around important landmarks such as parliament, key government buildings and Buckingham Palace, which are thought to be of heightened interest to terrorists because of their "iconic" status. The power may also apply to large train stations and places people gather in large numbers.

Ok; Parliament, Buck House, fair enough. Zero evidence that terrorists care about landmarks, they care about economic centres and civilian traffic nexus, but fair enough. Train stations and places people gather? Like, for example, protests, pickets and demonstrations? Or night-clubs, for example? Public parks in the summer?

I've been stopped and searched six times in the last two years, four of them under S44. Five have been in train stations and one was in Piccadilly. What this says, pretty blatantly, is "All right, we'll stop doing this thing we're doing wrong, which involves deliberately abusing the law, except in the places where we actually do most of it."




Re: Devil in the Details
Posted by Helen (90.152.xx.xx) on Thu 7 May 2009 at 12:18 [ Send Message | View Helen's Scratchpad | View Weblogs ]

Thanks for this; I hadn't realised quite how many relevant places the "reform" excludes.

I find it fascinating that S44 uses terrorism as an excuse, and Boris Johnson justifies its abuse by the reduction of knife crime. (I'm also slightly surprised the Guardian writer didn't pick up on the inconsistency.) Boris, these are NOT THE SAME. If knife crime is sufficiently problematic that you want a law permitting police to stop and search anyone who looks like they might be carrying a knife, then pass that as a law, don't use the 7/7 bombings as an excuse. We don't want police to have these powers, but the disingenuous justifications and lack of transparency make it that much harder to swallow.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (92.237.xx.xx) on Thu 7 May 2009 at 22:13

When I used to work in St. James, I was stop-and-searched every other week in Green Park tube station, in a blatant example of racial profiling.

...Only, not the way you'd expect: in order to maintain a neutral ethnic balance after hassling all those nasty foreign-looking chaps with beards, the Metropolitan Police desperately needs to find and search white caucasian middle-class Englishmen. As there aren't many of those in the tourist-traps of Picadilly, and I am the very epitome of Anglo-Saxon respectability in my shiny shoes and a tailored blazer, yours truly has the best-searched laptop-bag in London.