Police to severely curtail use of stop and search powers
Senior officers say powers damage community relations and produce little or no benefit.
have bowed to mounting opposition and are to significantly reduce their use of controversial terrorism powers that allow them to stop and search
people without reasonable suspicion, the Guardian has learned.
Stop and search is one of the most draconian powers employed by police in the war on terror and a constable's right to use it will be severely curtailed under plans unveiled today. In a document seen by the Guardian, senior officers admit that the hundreds of thousands of stops carried out under the power had damaged community relations and reversed "fundamental" principles of civil rights.
Critics say that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows stops without suspicion, has alienated British Muslims without producing little or no benefit.
Usually an officer requires "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing to stop someone, but officers have been able to use the power across London since the July 7 terrorist attacks.
Under the new plans, Scotland Yard will effectively remove an officers' power to stop people without reason, although they will keep the power for special circumstances when authorised by senior officers.
Lord Carlile, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the Guardian: "Section 44 is over-used, there is no question of it, and that is causing alienation to some communities
The changes, which will become public today, are outlined in a document from Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism chief, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, to the force's watchdog, the Metropolitan Police Authority.
In the document, Yates admits the power has damaged community ties and reversed the "fundamental principle" that people should only be stopped when there is reasonable grounds of suspicion.
Yates writes: "The consultation confirmed suggestions that the power is seen as controversial and has the potential to have a negative impact, particularly on minority communities."
Scotland Yard hugely increased the use of the power after the failed attempt to car-bomb the crowded central London bar Tiger Tiger in the summer of 2007.
Yates writes: "Following the events of June 2007 that saw a terrorist-based attempt to cause mass casualties in the Haymarket, London, and the partially successful attack at Glasgow airport, the [Met] took the strategic decision to increase the use of section 44 to deter offenders and prevent further attacks. Since October 2007 the [Met] has conducted 154,293 section 44 stop and searches/accounts."
Government figures released last week showed that black and Asian people were disproportionately targeted following the attempted Haymarket attack.
The number of black people stopped under the powers rose by 322%, compared with a rise of 277% for Asian people and 185% for white people.
In the Met document, Yates writes: "There is no requirement to have any reasonable grounds to conduct the search. This power reverses a fundamental principle in that no suspicion of wrongdoing is required."
The civil rights group Liberty said just six in every 10,000 stops resulted in arrests, and it is not believed that the power has directly led to a conviction for terrorism.
In a forward for a new book for police officers working in counter-terrorism, Lord Carlile chides the police for misusing section 44. He writes: "The limitations of the power to stop and search without suspicion have been overstepped too often. Other stop and search powers exist, and are generally preferable.
"All in authority are required to never to forget that such laws are a step outside the norms of criminal justice legislation: the right to stop and search in the street in a different way, and more extensive than a non-terrorism intervention is a power to be exercised with caution."
Police will in future usually use *section 43 of the Terrorism Act, which says an officer needs reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in terrorist activity before they can be stopped.
The exceptions will be around important landmarks such as parliament, key government buildings and Buckingham Palace, which are thought to be of heightened interest to terrorists because of their "iconic" status. The power may also apply to large train stations and places people gather in large numbers.
The second instance where the power to stop and search without suspicion will be where intelligence suggests there is a specific threat or top officers decide that there is a need to use the power to "prevent and deter" terrorist activity, and this could also apply to state events such as Trooping the Colour and the State opening of parliament.
The radical change was close to being agreed by Scotland Yard's former counter terrorism chief, Bob Quick, before his resignation last month.
Four London boroughs will pilot the new practice. They are Southwark, Brent, Newham and Tower Hamlets. It is expected the change will apply across London by the summer. Other police forces across Britain are also expected to implement the changes.
Abdurahman Jafar, chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, which tries to improve relations between police and the Muslim communities, said: "Section 44 is a very draconian power which was perceived as being used to target Muslims. Muslims were three times more likely to be stopped than other groups.
"It damaged police and community relations and this change is long overdue and one we welcome."
Liberty said counter-terrorism laws still needed to be reformed. Isabella Sankey, the group's policy director, said: "It is clear that the misuse of these powers against peaceful protesters and their disproportionate use on ethnic minorities has undermined trust and confidence. We welcome any operational restraint in their use but surely parliament must tighten up the law."