Police ‘Illegally’ Stopping White People to Racially Balance Stop-and-Search Figures, Watchdog Claims
James Slack, Daily Mail (London), June 17, 2009
Police are making unjustified and ‘almost certainly’ illegal searches of white people to provide ‘racial balance’ to Government figures.
Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terror laws, said he knew of cases where suspects were stopped by officers even though there was no evidence against them.
He warned that police were wasting time and money by carrying out these ‘self-evidently unmerited searches’ which were an invasion of civil liberties and ‘almost certainly unlawful’.
The searches of, for example, ‘blonde women’ who fit no terrorist profile come against a backdrop of complaints from rights groups that the number of black and Muslim people being stopped by police is disproportionate.
Lord Carlile suggests whites are being needlessly stopped in order to balance the books.
Last year, the number of whites searched under anti-terror laws rocketed by 185 per cent, from 25,962 to 73,967.
Whites made up around two-thirds of all those stopped, although, compared to the overall population, blacks and Asians remain far more likely to be stopped and searched.
Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat peer and QC, condemned the wrongful use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in his annual report on anti-terror laws.
He said police were carrying out the searches on people they had no basis for suspecting so they could avoid accusations of prejudice.
Lord Carlile wrote: ‘I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.
‘In one situation the basis of the stops was numerical only, which is almost certainly unlawful and in no way an intelligent use of the procedure.
‘I believe it is totally wrong for any person to be stopped in order to produce a racial balance in the Section 44 statistics. There is ample anecdotal evidence this is happening.
‘I can well understand the concerns of the police that they should be free from allegations of prejudice, but it is not a good use of precious resources if they waste them on self-evidently unmerited searches.
‘It is also an invasion of the civil liberties of the person who has been stopped, simply to ‘balance’ the statistics.
‘The criteria for section 44 stops should be objectively based, irrespective of racial considerations: if an objective basis happens to produce an ethnic imbalance, that may have to be regarded as a proportional consequence of operational policing.’
Lord Carlile later said the number of Section 44 searches could be cut by half in London without damaging national security.
He added: ‘If, for example, 50 blonde women are stopped who fall nowhere near any intelligence-led terrorism profile, it’s a gross invasion of the civil liberties of those 50 blonde women.
‘The police are perfectly entitled to stop people who fall within a terrorism profile even if it creates a racial imbalance as long as it is not racist.”
Officers in England and Wales used the powers to search 124,687 people in 2007/8, up from 41,924 in 2006/7 and only 1 per cent of searches led to an arrest.
Nearly 90 per cent of the searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police which recorded a 266 per cent increase in its use of the power.
Lord Carlile said he could see no reason for the whole of Greater London to be permanently designated an area where the power could operate.
He added: ‘I repeat my mantra that terrorism related powers should be used only for terrorism related purposes; otherwise their credibility is severely damaged. The damage to community relations if they are used incorrectly can be considerable.’
Shadow Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: ‘It is a hallmark of this Government that powers available under terrorism legislation are used for reasons entirely unrelated to those for which they were put on the statute book.
‘Inappropriate use of stop and search power is the surest way to lose public support and damage community relations. Lord Carlile rightly condemns this.
‘The Government needs to make absolutely sure that anti-terrorism powers are used proportionately and only for terror-related purposes.’
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: ‘We must row back from random and excessive use of stop and search and reach out to the communities we most rely on for intelligence in the fight against terrorism.’
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the Metropolitan Police had already begun to review how Section 44 was used across the whole of the capital, including a pilot of its more restricted use.
Today’s report also warns of the continuing terrorist threat to the UK.
Lord Carlile says there is evidence of ‘small, dissent active and dangerous’ paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.
The Peer also remains pessimistic about ‘the future of international terrorism as promulgated by violent Islamist jihad’.