Police forces across the UK conducted unauthorised stops and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, the Government has admitted today.
Many amateur and professional photographers have complained about the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act which gives police officers the right, in designated areas authorised by a police chief, to stop and search an individual ? and confiscate an article ? whether or not there are grounds to suspect a connection with terrorism.
It is thought that thousands of people were unlawfully stopped by 14 police forces before December 2008.
The forces include the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police.
The errors were uncovered when the Metropolitan Police reviewed its Section 44 records as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The force found an authorisation from 2004 which had not been confirmed by a Home Office minister within the statutory 48-hour deadline.
Further investigations revealed that around 840 people were stopped and searched during the invalid authorisation period.
It is not known how many of these involved photographers.
A subsequent Home Office investigation discovered further mistakes.
Reacting to the news, architectural photographer Grant Smith – who has been stopped several times under anti-terror laws in recent months – told Amateur Photographer: ‘This brings the subject back into the public eye. The coalition government is going to have to do something about it.’
Commenting on the findings, Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: ?I am very concerned by these historical administrative errors. To maintain public confidence in our counter terrorism powers, it is absolutely crucial all those responsible for exercising them do so properly.
?I take these matters very seriously and have instructed the Department to conduct an urgent review of current procedures to ensure that errors can be prevented in future.
?The Government is already committed to undertaking a review of counter-terrorism legislation which will include the use of stop and search powers in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. We shall make our findings known as soon as possible.?
Last year Amateur Photographer reported that the public will never know how many ‘photographers’ have been stopped by the Metropolitan Police under anti-terrorism laws because, admitted the force, it does not record the information on a computer database.
Rejecting for a second time a Freedom of Information (FoI) request lodged by the magazine the Met said: ‘There is no specific code on the Stops database that specifically relates to searches involving photographers, the MPS would therefore have to conduct a manual search of the free text wording of every individual stop and search form to identify the information you require.’
Refusing AP’s demands, the Met said that the cost of manually extracting information relating to photographers would run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, thereby exceeding its ‘£450’ cost limit.
Below is a copy of the written statement by Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones, as supplied to Amateur Photographer by the Home Office today, 10th June 2010:
Authorisation to stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000
Baroness Neville-Jones: I wish to inform the House of errors relating to those periods in the past which have recently been identified following an internal review of the authorisation process for the stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has undertaken work in relation to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act concerning authorisations for the section 44 stop and search powers. In the course of reviewing their section 44 records, the MPS identified an authorisation from April 2004 which had not been confirmed by a Home Office Minister within the statutory 48 hour deadline for confirmation. Subsequent investigations revealed that approximately 840 were stopped and searched in the relevant area during the period of the invalid authorisation. The MPS are urgently considering what steps can reasonably be taken to contact those individuals involved.
As a result of this discovery, the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office undertook a review in May 2010 of all section 44 authorisations since the Terrorism Act came into force on 19 February 2001, in the course of which a number of other errors came to light. I have to inform the House that it appears that stop and search powers have been used unlawfully by a number of police forces on a number of occasions. The Home Office has written to each of the police forces concerned to alert them to these errors and those forces are now in the process of assessing how many individuals were stopped and searched in the periods of invalid authorisations. They will do their best to contact those involved. To summarise these errors, on 33 occasions authorisations were specified to be for 29 days, and 2 occasions when the authorisations were specified to be for 30 days, whereas the statutory maximum period is 28 days. In addition, there was 1 further case (as well as the MPS incident in
April 2004) where Ministerial confirmation for the authorisation was not provided within the statutory 48 hour deadline. All of these cases appear to have been as a result of administrative errors which were not identified at the time by either the police or the Home Office. A full breakdown is included in the attached table.
Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has been informed.
Three episodes of errors taking place in the section 44 authorisation process have previously been brought to the attention of the House. For completeness, these are also included in the attached table bringing the total number of such cases to 40. Home Office officials are working closely with the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) with the aim of ensuring there are no incidents in future. Officials will keep Lord Carlile and me informed and I will report back to the House as necessary.
I am aware that there is considerable concern about the operation of section 44 stop and search powers going beyond these authorisation errors. The Government is committed to a wider review of counter-terrorism legislation, including the operation of the Section 44 stop and search provisions. Whilst I take some re-assurance from the fact that no errors have occurred since December 2008 when the authorisation process was tightened, I want to assure the House that there will be utmost vigilance in future. It is with the need for this in mind that I have instructed Home Office officials unconnected with the administrative process to conduct the internal review of procedures.