Stop and search: Police under fire over ‘unnecessary’ terror stops (update 5.30pm)
June 17, 2009
Lord Carlile, the terror law watchdog, warns that police use Section 44 of the Terrorism Act unnecessarily and stresses that no stops have ever led to a conviction.
Section 44 gives police officers the power to stop someone without reasonable grounds for suspicion that they are engaged in a terrorist activity.
‘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,’ says Lord Carlile in the 88-page report which is now being scrutinised by Amateur Photographer (AP).
Lord Carlile specifically addresses photographers’ concerns over the introduction of a law (Section 58A) that makes it a potential offence to photograph a police officer.
On page 39 of his report Lord Carlile states: ‘A number of professional and amateur photographers have approached me to complain that this provision is being used to threaten them with prosecution if they take photographs of police officers on duty.
‘In one case a correspondent informed me that a police officer used the section to force him to delete from his camera a photograph of a police officer on traffic duty, in circumstances in which the member of the public had a legitimate reason for taking the photograph in connection with his own impending traffic case.’
He continues: ‘It should be emphasised that photography of the police by the media or amateurs remains as legitimate as before, unless the photograph is likely to be of use to a terrorist. This is a high bar. It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs.
‘The police must adjust to the undoubted fact that the scrutiny of them by members of the public is at least proportional to any increase in police powers – given the ubiquity of photograph and video-enabled mobile phones. Police officers who use force or threaten force in this context run the real risk of being prosecuted themselves for one or more several possible criminal and disciplinary offences’.
He accuses the police of stopping people under Section 44 in order to produce racially balanced figures.
Lord Carlile adds: ‘Chief officers must bear in mind that a Section 44 stop, without suspicion, is an invasion of the stopped person’s freedom of movement.’
Responding to criticism over the newly introduced Section 58A, Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted: ‘It is true that since section 58A came into force in February this year, there has been some controversy surrounding it; especially with concerned members of both amateur and professional photography organisations.’
He added: ‘As you are aware, counter-terrorism laws were not designed nor intended to stop people taking photographs and the Home Office is working towards providing further clarification both for the public and those involved in its enforcement.’
Last month the Metropolitan Police rejected AP’s Freedom of Information request for the number of people it stops under anti-terrorism laws after being seen taking photographs.
The magazine had sought figures on the number of people stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, specifically relating to photography.
In March, the Home Office invited AP magazine to help draft guidance that will aim to ensure police do not misuse anti-terrorism legislation to unfairly stop photographers.