A quarter of police stop-and-searches last year could have been illegal, Theresa May admits

Deputy Political Editor

More than 250,000 stop-and-searches conducted last year could have been illegal, Theresa May has warned, as she set out plans to overhaul the heavily criticised police practice.

But the Home Secretary backed off from fresh laws in next month’s Queen’s Speech to stamp out abuse of the power following a row with Downing Street over the need for legislation.

Mrs May told the Commons that HMIC, the police standards watchdog, found that 27 per cent of street searches were carried out without officers having reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Around one million searches were conducted last year, with just ten per cent leading to an arrest.

In addition, black people were six times more likely to be stopped-and-searched than their white neighbours.

Detailing plans to reform stop-and-search in England and Wales, Mrs May announced that officers who failed to use their powers properly would face disciplinary action or retraining.

The code of practice under which searches are carried out is to be revised, while members of the public will be able to apply to accompany police officers on patrol.

The Home Secretary said she was prepared to bring in legislation to drive up standards if her reforms failed to reduce the number of wrongly conducted stop-and-searches.

Mrs May clashed last year with Downing Street over her support for tough action on the issue, with Number 10 worried that the move would undermine the Conservatives’ law and order credentials.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, accused her of producing “weak” proposals under pressure from Downing Street.

She said: “The Home Secretary was right and the Prime Minister was wrong. It is very disappointing that David Cameron seems to have ignored the benefits of further sensible reform for good policing, tackling discrimination and building community confidence.”

Rachel Robinson, the policy director for human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “For too long governments have talked tough on racism but maintained stop-and-search without suspicion, a power steeped in discrimination.

“The Home Secretary's intervention continues the trend - a half-hearted mix of voluntary, patchy measures while telling police to follow current codes of practice is no fix.”

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