Letter: Police road-blocks

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The smaller-scale Operation Mermaid in June (reports, 12, 13 August) in which individuals were randomly stopped and questioned by the Benefits Agency, was carried out at ports, with cars being stopped under the guise of questioning from Customs, as well as by police on the roads.

I was stopped at 7.30 on a Monday morning at Dover, returning from a weekend in France and on my way to work. After being asked to show my ticket and passport, I was passed on to a Benefits Agency officer, who said she was going to ask me "a few questions". She did not tell me that I had the right to refuse to answer, or that I would subsequently be asked to sign a statement on the spot. It was an intimidating situation - I was in a Customs shed, surrounded by people in uniform and facing a locked door. I therefore did not protest at the time, despite feeling that this was a gross invasion of my privacy.

A letter of complaint to the then secretary of State for Social Security was passed to the Benefits Agency in Dover, who replied by saying that, according to their officer, I had been "happy to co-operate". Questions about the taking of statements, the purpose and effectiveness of the operation, and the authority under which it was carried out have not yet been answered.

I was glad to read that I am not alone in finding the Benefits Agency's need to hide behind other people's skirts in order to look for needles in haystacks to be pretty reprehensible.

MARY RICE

London SW16

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