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Police stop and search innocent people to balance race figures, terror watchdog says

By Richard Ford | Times Online | June 18, 2009

White people are being unjustifiably stopped and searched to provide racial balance in police statistics, the antiterrorism watchdog said yesterday.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, described the searches in his annual report on the operation of counterterrorism legislation as “almost certainly” illegal. He said that he knew of cases where people were stopped by officers even though they did not fit any known terrorist profile.

He accused the police of wasting time and money by carrying out “self-evidently unmerited searches”, which were also an invasion of civil liberties. The searches, for example, of blonde women who fit no terrorist profile came against a backdrop of complaints from rights groups that the number of black and Muslim people being stopped and searched by police was disproportionate.

Lord Carlile said that police were stopping white people unjustifiably so that official figures would make it look as if they were not singling out black and Asian people under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. “No police officer has admitted that to me, but I believe that is the case,” he told The Times.

Under Section 44, police can stop and search anyone in a designated area without suspicion that an offence has occurred. Last year the number of white people searched rose from 29,900 to 73,000, blacks from 3,600 to 15,200 and Asians from 5,500 to 20,700. Although whites made up the biggest number, in terms of population, blacks and Asians were more likely to be stopped.

Lord Carlile wrote in his report: “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.

“In one situation the basis of the stops was numerical only, which is almost certainly unlawful and in no way an intelligent use of the procedure.”

One example was a white middle-aged professional woman who was at a railway station in northern England when she was stopped and searched by a British Transport Police officer.

Lord Carlile said: “I believe it is totally wrong for any person to be stopped in order to produce a racial balance in the Section 44 statistics. There is ample anecdotal evidence this is happening. I can well understand the concerns of the police that they should be free from allegations of prejudice, but it is not a good use of precious resources if they waste them on self-evidently unmerited searches.”

A racial imbalance in the numbers of people stopped because they fitted a terrorism profile was fine, he said, “as long as it is not racist”.

Nearly 90 per cent of the searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police, whose officers use Section 44 to carry out stop and search between 8,000 and 10,000 times a month. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “We can categorically say that no individual is targeted by police because of their culture, faith, race or religion.”

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