Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Fears over stop and search powers

Stop and search
Police have been advised to use the anti-terrorism powers sparingly

Metropolitan Police officers are stopping and searching too many innocent people using powers designed for fighting terrorism, it is claimed.

There were more than 157,290 stop and searches in London under anti-terror laws in the year to September 2008, leading to 1,200 arrests.

That is nearly triple the 54,693 searches the previous year.

Critics said the force should curb its use of the power, but the Met Police said they were using the tool properly.

Use sparingly

Section 44 of the Anti-Terrorism Act gives police the power to stop and search people in specific areas without the reasonable need to suspect them of being involved in terrorism.

Currently it is being applied across the whole of London but officers have been advised to use the power sparingly.

Amateur photographer Nicholas Ling said he was stopped and searched by officers outside West Ruislip station in November last year.

There's a lot of anger - it's not just railway enthusiasts, it's people in the street, it's tourists being hassled, it's students who are doing photography and architecture courses
Chris Milner, Railway magazine
He said: "I thought it was totally unnecessary - it wasn't as if I was vandalising anything.

"All I was doing was standing here with my camera."

Chris Milner, deputy editor of Railway magazine, said he had received many similar complaints from readers who have been stopped and searched.

He said: "There's a lot of anger - it's not just railway enthusiasts, it's people in the street, it's tourists being hassled, it's students who are doing photography and architecture courses.

"It's people just walking up and down the street who just want to take a picture of anything."

In 2004, a report from the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) said the power to stop and search "trampled on the basic human rights of too many Londoners".

The feedback, the very limited complaints and the public reaction to the way we go about using this power shows that we're not misusing it overall or in specific cases
Commander Simon Bray

Barrister Sebastian Gardiner, chairman of the Society of Labour Lawyers' crime group, said little had changed.

"If you look at the occasions when it's been used, for example the arms fair protests and the Heathrow runway protests, people were stopped and searched under Section 44 when neither could be said to be likely to involve terrorist activity," he said.

However, the police insisted that the powers were being used appropriately.

"The feedback, the very limited complaints and the public reaction to the way we go about using this power shows that we're not misusing it overall or in specific cases," said Commander Simon Bray.

"We recognise the sensitivities but remember it is a really important method of deterring and preventing terrorism."

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