Claims ahead over terror search errors

Thousands of people could be in line for compensation tonight after they were illegally stopped and searched by police using controversial counter-terrorism legislation.

An urgent review is under way after officials discovered 14 police forces failed to get the correct authorisation for operations that allow them to stop members of the public without reason.



They found 40 operations dating back to 2001 where police who were granted powers to use section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 had no legal basis after they applied for an invalid timescale or were not countersigned quickly enough.



Home Secretary Theresa May was said to be "very angry" about the astonishing blunders and her Cabinet colleague Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones said she was "extremely concerned".



The coalition Government has already ordered a wide-ranging review of counter-terrorism legislation and pledged to introduce safeguards to prevent misuse of invasive powers.



Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that indiscriminate section 44 searches were illegal but they remained in place while the Government sought permission to appeal.



Campaigners, who have already highlighted how the powers are often used against demonstrators and photographers, said the "dangerous and undemocratic law" must be dumped immediately.



Police sources said preparations for losing section 44 stop and search powers were well advanced despite their argument that they helped make Britain a "hostile environment" for terrorists.



Baroness Neville-Jones said police would try to contact every person affected by the blunders, but the Metropolitan Police said it did not hold many of the relevant records.



She said: "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 extremely 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."



The discovery came after the Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for about nine out of 10 section 44 searches, began to investigate a request under the Freedom of Information Act.



Officials found former Home Secretary David Blunkett had not signed an authorisation form for an April 2004 operation in which 840 people were stopped within the 48 hour deadline.



This sparked an internal Home Office review which uncovered a further 36 cases of dodgy authorisations, including 35 occasions when forces asked for a search window in excess of the maximum 28 days.



Three cases, involving South Wales Police and Sussex Police, already highlighted to Parliament from previous inquiries were added to the figures.



Asked whether the force now faced a flood of legal actions, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "It is a matter for individuals to seek legal advice in relation to this issue."



Cumbria chief constable Craig Mackey, a member of Acpo and the national lead for stop and search, admitted "mistakes have been made".



He said: "Powers to stop and search can play an important part in keeping our communities safe from terrorism but should always be used in a proportionate way, recognising the critical need to retain local confidence.



"Where mistakes have been made in the application of these powers, it is vital that we learn from them."



Corinna Ferguson, of civil liberties organisation Liberty, said: "We are grateful to the Government for making these blunders public but they merely highlight the ongoing dangers of secret stop and search authorisations.



"This is one of many objections to a power that has been found unlawful in the Court of Human Rights and has been more of a hindrance than a help to anti-terror policing."



Alex Deane, of campaigning organisation Big Brother Watch, said: "Section 44 stop and search is a dangerous and undemocratic law that has been used to invade the privacy of law-abiding people.



"The European Court has ruled its use illegal and this latest revelation proves that the police have been abusing the intrusive powers that it provides.



"There can be no fudge: if the coalition Government is serious about protecting privacy, it must halt the use of Section 44 authorisations immediately."



* The forces involved are: Met, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Fife, South Wales and Thames Valley.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living