1 May 2009

Richard Ford and Sean O’Neill

Black people are almost eight times as likely as whites to be stopped and searched a decade after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry branded the police “institutionally racist”.

Use of ordinary stop and search tactics in England and Wales rose sharply to more than one million in 2007-08, the highest figure since 1998.

The rise has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993 black people were six times as likely to be stopped and searched as whites. By 2006/7, that had risen to seven times.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice yesterday for stops and searches in 2007/08 under Section 44 counter-terror laws were even starker. The number of people stopped and searched tripled in a year to 117,000 but fewer than1 per cent were arrested for alleged terrorism-related offences.

There was a 322 per cent rise in black people stopped and searched, 277 per cent in Asians and 185 per cent in white people under anti-terror laws.

Civil liberty campaigners and politicians accused police of heavy-handedness and said that vastly increased use of their powers threatened to alienate large sections of the community.

Cindy Butts, who is leading the Metropolitan Police Authority’s race and faith inquiry, said that she was concerned about the “huge disproportionality” revealed by the figures.

She said: “One could argue there is a pressure-cooker situation developing. There is a sense of a number of issues that all have the potential to impact on the same groups in our community, young males from black and Asian communities — the very people who we cannot afford to switch off from the police, the very people we need to feel confident in the police.”

Stephen Lawrence’s mother, Doreen, said that she would rate progress since the inquiry report a decade ago as “work in progress, five out of ten”. She told MPs this week: “Officers do not understand the powers they have and misuse them. I don’t feel there is much accountability.”

The report comes as police struggle to retain public confidence after the G20 protests, the Damian Green affair and the resignation of the anti-terror chief Bob Quick. Last night the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced a fourth investigation linked to the G20 protests — a woman alleging that she was assaulted by officers. The commission has received 256 complaints, including 121 about the use of force by officers.

The official figures on race and the criminal justice system revealed increases in police stops and searches in relation to both ordinary and terrorist crimes. Black people were nearly eight times as likely to be stopped and searched per head of population as whites. Asians were twice as likely to be searched.

Nearly 90 per cent of the searches under counter-terror powers were carried out in London by the Metropolitan Police. Vernon Coaker, the Police Minister, said that the increase in anti-terror stops and searches was in part linked to the failed bombings in Haymarket. London, in 2007.

Civil liberties campaigners accused the police of abusing the counter- terror law because they do not need to have “reasonable suspicion” before stopping a person.

Corinna Ferguson, a barrister with the campaign group Liberty, said: “A threefold increase in anti-terror stop and search is the clearest signal that these powers are being misused.”

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said that the figures accent- uated concerns that the powers disproportionately affect members of the minority ethnic community.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said that the use of Section 44 was under review and stressed that people from ethnic minority groups were not a focus of stop and search operations. “Terrorists can come from all backgrounds,” he said.

SOURCE: The Times


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