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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2007, 14:03 GMT
Met chief defends terror powers
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs

Raided property
Forest Gate: Community criticised lack of communication
Met Police chief Sir Ian Blair has defended the use of controversial anti-terrorism stop and search powers.

But he told the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) that the force would review their use.

Sir Ian said the Met would be looking at how it was using Section 44, a law designed to combat terrorism.

The MPA said in a report that the stops were causing "untold damage" to certain communities and better communication was needed to win public confidence.

Speaking to the authority, Sir Ian said: "Of course we will review it. We have to reflect on what's being said to us. But we have to have every methodology available to us (in the fight against terrorism).

"Section 44 is used for vehicle stops - vehicle-borne weaponry is the greatest danger that we face."

He added that he accepted that the Met had to "rev up" how it explained anti-terrorist operations to the public.

'Views heard'

The MPA's report warned that poor communication with the public over terror raids was damaging the police's need to win support from key London communities.

It says the force must improve how it talks to people if security services are to win public confidence.

One senior officer conceded the force had been "caught in the headlights" over the 2006 Forest Gate operation.

And the authority warned some powers may not be helping to fight terrorism.

In a report into the city's response to fears of terrorism, the MPA, which oversees most of the capital's policing, said it has taken on board the views of more than 1,000 people.

While Londoners feared terrorism and wanted police protection, the Met had been "weakest" since the 2005 London bombings in explaining its actions, the MPA report says.

Almost two years on since the bombings, engagement between police and communities remained sporadic and disjointed, it says.

ANTI-TERRORISM STOPS AND SEARCHES
22,672 from Sept 05 to Oct 06
27 terrorism arrests
242 other arrests
16% of stops Asian
52% White
Source: MPA

"Communications in a counter-terrorist context are vitally important and, with the benefit of learning from previous operations, must be improved," said Lord Toby Harris of the MPA.

"People need more accurate information, and more quickly, if they are to put their trust in police and other agencies' counter-terrorist work. This trust is mission-critical to the success of the country's counter-terrorist effort."

"The law on [fair trials] and the legal system, as they stand, do not allow the timely and effective sharing of vital information with the public about UK counter-terrorist activity."

The authority's warnings mirror concerns being raised from within Muslim communities.

In the Forest Gate operation of 2006, when a man was shot but later released without charge, community leaders expressed frustration over how little people were being told.

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman told the inquiry that the force "got caught in the headlights and frightened to say anything".

This kind of vacuum was being filled by the media, parts of which the MPA said were "irresponsible, counter-productive and unaccountable" in their reporting of terrorism.

Stop and search

Lord Harris said the research also raised serious questions over the Metropolitan Police's use of special anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers.

These powers allow officers to randomly stop people providing they are in an area deemed to be a potential target for terrorists. Unlike the main stop-and-search powers, officers do not need to prove they had "reasonable suspicion" of the individual.

Of almost 23,000 stops between September 2005 and October 2006, 269 led to an arrest and 27 for terrorism-related offences.




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