Scotsman | May 27, 2007
UK POLICE could, for the first time, be given powers to stop and question anyone under new anti-terror laws being prepared by the Home Office, officials said last night.
The measure – so far used only in Northern Ireland – is set to be part of a new package being prepared by Home Secretary John Reid as he prepares to quit the cabinet next month.
Anyone who refuses to co-operate could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to £5,000.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are considering a range of measures for the Bill and ‘stop and question’ is one of them.”
At present, officers may stop and search individuals on “reasonable grounds for suspicion” they have committed an offence but have no rights to ask for their identity and movements.
The Home Office would not comment on suggestions the new laws were to be rushed through before Tony Blair steps down as Prime Minister on June 27. Reid has said he will quit the cabinet at the same time.
Counter-terrorism minister Tony McNulty told Blair last week the new stop powers would be “very useful UK wide.” A letter reportedly sent to Blair suggested it would help reduce the use of stop-and-search powers which are unpopular with the public. “A less intrusive power of stop and question that could be used by the police in the first instance would be useful. The effect of this power should therefore be to reduce the number of times stop and search is used,” he told him.
But the move was attacked by civil rights campaigners.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: “The police should not have powers to run around questioning people willy-nilly. This looks like political machismo, a legacy moment. Stopping and questioning anyone you like will backfire because people will be being criminalised.”
Last year, the government’s own terror watchdog Lord Carlile warned that security services were abusing their stop-and-search powers.
Searches soared to more than 100 a day after the July 7 attacks on London in 2005, but only one in 62 led to an arrest. Campaigners have also complained police searches are too heavily targeted at ethnic minorities.
A government report shows that of the 10,941 pedestrians searched under Section 44 in 2005 a record since the act came into force in 2001 only 177 were arrested.
Some 2,405 Asian and black people were stopped in the two months after the July 7 attacks, compared with 196 the previous year. The rise is more than twice that recorded for white people stopped in the same period.