Fall in number of people stopped and searched

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The Independent Online

The number of people stopped and searched under controversial anti-terror powers fell dramatically last year, figures show.

Across Britain in the year ending September 2009, 200,444 people were stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a 12 per cent fall on the previous year. The powers allow officers to stop anyone in a specified area without the need for reasonable suspicion.

The Government's anti-terror policy was thrown into turmoil in January after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that police who use Section 44 without grounds for suspicion are violating individual freedoms and acting illegally. Police continued to use the powers pending an appeal.

Of those stopped under the powers last year only 965 (0.5 per cent) were arrested, the Home Office figures showed. The Metropolitan Police also made 1,896 stop and searches under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows an officer to stop a person they suspect to be a terrorist. Only four arrests resulted, at a rate of just 0.2 per cent. While 15 per cent of those stopped under Section 44 classified themselves as Asian or Asian British, 20 per cent stopped under Section 43 said they were Asian.

Anti-terrorism chiefs ordered an escalation in the use of Section 44 powers after the failed bomb attack against the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London's Haymarket in 2007. That resulted in more than a quarter of a million people being searched in 2008-09 – the highest on record and more than twice the level of the previous year. But after a public outcry over the use of searches, which disproportionately affect minority groups, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson ordered them to be scaled back.

Photographers and protesters have claimed the powers are used excessively against them.