Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Police reduce number of anti-terror stop-and-searches

Armed police at Parliament
The use of Section 44 was restricted to "iconic" sites in May

The number of people stopped and searched by police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has fallen.

Police used the powers to stop and search 36,189 people between April and June 2009 - a fall of 37% on the same period in 2008.

The powers allow officers to stop anyone in specified areas, without the need for reasonable suspicion.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner ordered stop-and-searches to be scaled back in May, after a public outcry.

Bomb attacks

The police had faced criticism their use of Section 44 had been alienating people from ethnic minorities in the capital.

Sir Paul Stephenson said the powers should be restricted to "iconic" sites, including Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

Anti-terror searches had been more widely used since car bomb attacks on a nightclub in the West End and Glasgow Airport in June 2007.

Of those stopped and searched under Section 44 between April and June this year, only 0.6% were arrested, according to the Home Office, compared with 11% of those stopped and searched under other legislation.

Parliament needs to take responsibility for the divisive blunt instrument it created
Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty

A Home Office spokesman said: "Stop-and-search is a powerful tool in helping to prevent and disrupt crime and detect offenders, whether it is street robbery, gun and knife crime, drug dealing or terrorism.

"But, as with all police powers, it must be exercised proportionately, with the support and confidence of the local community."

Civil liberties campaign group Liberty welcomed the fall in such searches but urged ministers to introduce restrictions.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "Section 44 stops are not based on reasonable suspicion and less than 1% lead to a subsequent arrest.

"Parliament needs to take responsibility for the divisive blunt instrument it created. We need urgent legislation to provide transparency and tighter definitions for its use."

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said the use of stop-and-searches was not declining fast enough.

Shadow Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: "Inappropriate and ever wider use of these powers is one of the surest ways to lose public support in the fight against terrorism."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "By reducing indiscriminate and excessive use of stop-and-search, we can reach out to the communities we rely on most for intelligence, which is a far more crucial tool in the fight against terrorism."

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