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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Police stop and search 'rising'
Police search a man
The laws give police more powers to stop-and-search
More people are being stopped and searched by police under anti-terror laws, research by the BBC has shown.

The numbers have risen since the suicide bombings in London on 7 July.

The powers allow police to stop and search people without the need to show that they have "reasonable suspicion" an offence is being committed.

Over half of 18 forces in England and Wales said they had stopped more people in the last three months than in the previous year.

Civil rights' campaign group Liberty said the powers allowed officers to act without evidence of wrong-doing.

It's unattractive to members of the public because it doesn't involve reasonable suspicion of anything
Lord Carlile

"Usually there is a restriction on the police's power to stop and search because they need to have a reasonable suspicion that somebody is carrying a stolen item or has a weapon, or something along those lines," solicitor Alex Gask said.

"But with this particular power there's absolutely no need for reasonable suspicion at all - so there's nothing restricting the officers' use."

The government-appointed independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile QC, said stop and search was a valuable tool - but was being used too widely.

"It's unattractive to members of the public because it doesn't involve reasonable suspicion of anything.

So one can be searched simply because one happens to be in a particular area. "

In his annual review, Lord Carlile said overall the use of this power could be halved without any reduction in public safety.

Accountability

Rob Beckley, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told BBC Radio Four police were working with the Home Office to increase their accountability: "The one thing we do recognise is the need for confidence in the way we use the powers," he said.

In recent months the use of section 44 has become increasingly controversial
Christian Fraser

"We're looking at ways we can share the information and the intelligence that we use to make decisions about stop and search with the public a little bit more widely so they understand why we're doing it."

The research by the BBC shows wide variations in the use of terrorism powers by forces in England and Wales.

Just under half the 43 police forces in England and Wales provided recent figures for the stops and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000.

Variations

Some forces like Cumbria or Devon and Cornwall have not used the power at all, while others have seen massive increases.

For example, Hampshire police stopped more than 4,400 pedestrians and vehicles since 7 July, compared to just under 700 between 2003 and 2004.

Assistant Chief Constable Simon Cole, of Hampshire Police, defended his force's use of the powers:

"We contain the home of the Army, the home of the Navy, lots of significant points of infrastructure; airports. Our job is to stop those places being attacked," he said.

There were just four searches in Humberside in 2003/4, yet in the last three months, there were 1,830.

In nearby Kent there were just 56 stops and searches in the last three months - in a county that is home to the Channel Tunnel and the channel ports.




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