Page last updated at 01:49 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 02:49 UK

Capital sees rise in terror stops

By Anna Cavell
BBC London News

Armed police at Parliament
Section 44 allows police to search any person or vehicle without suspicion

Somebody in London is stopped and searched every three minutes, according to new figures obtained by BBC London.

The Metropolitan Police used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in London.

That compares to almost 72,000 anti-terror stop and searches carried out in the previous year.

The Met said anti-terror searches had been more widely used since the planting of two car bombs in central London in July 2007.

Terror threat

Of all the stops last year, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%.

Figures showed more than 60% of those stopped were white - about the same as the proportion of white people in London.

It catches no or almost no terrorism material, it has never caught a terrorist and therefore it should be used conservatively
Lord Carlile of Berriew

The Section 44 power allows police to search any person or vehicle without the need for suspicion.

It was intended to be used for big events like the Queen's Speech or just in designated areas where the terror threat was high.

Since February 2001, however, it has been in force throughout the Met area. Where and when it can be used is decided by the police who have to apply to the Home Office for approval for its use in a specific area for up to 28 days.

Lord Carlile said it was time for the Met to reconsider how the power was being used.

"The new Metropolitan Police commissioner should look at London again from the viewpoint of section 44," he said.

"It catches no or almost no terrorism material, it has never caught a terrorist and therefore it should be used conservatively."

Capital sees rise in terror stops

Section 44 is used outside London but far less. In 2007, all the other police forces in England and Wales combined only used it 12,399 times, compared to almost 72,000 in London that year alone.

A Met police spokesman said: "The threat to London from terrorism is real and serious and these powers are a vital tactic in our counter-terrorism strategy.

"They can disrupt and deter terrorist activity, create a hostile environment for terrorists and provide visible reassurance to the public."

He added: "No one community is singled-out or targeted, terrorists come from all backgrounds."

The Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Metropolitan Police were all unable to say whether anyone had successfully been charged or convicted for terror offences as a direct result of section 44.



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