Anti-terror police told to target Asians

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Civil liberties campaigners and black groups have reacted furiously over orders to the British Transport Police which say terrorist suspects are of "Asian, West Indian and east African origin". They have urged the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate.

Officers patrolling on the Tube and train network, have been told not to "use stereotypical images of terrorists when deciding whether or not to use their powers of stop and search." But the operational order, issued after the July 7 attacks in London, which The Independent has seen, adds: "It should be noted, however, that recent suspects have included individuals of Asian, West Indian and east African origin, some of whom have British nationality."

The order has re-ignited the row over "racial profiling" by police and revived concerns that a disproportionately high number of black and Asian people are stopped and searched, without reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Liberty, the human rights lobby group, has consulted lawyers to see if the order breaches race relations laws.

Black leaders said the advice contributed to racial stereotyping and said it should be examined by the Commission for Racial Equality. Today, MPs plan to raise the issue of stop and search during a special session of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Commons committee is taking evidence from Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, on "issues arising from the London bombings".

"I am sure the Commission for Racial Equality would be keen to scrutinise this operational order. You can't say 'don't use stereotypes' and then say 'just watch out for this lot'," said Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote. "We desperately need to avoid the crude profiling that may have led to death of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. The officers jumped to a conclusion about him because he had a dark complexion. Strong intelligence-led policing is the only way to gain the confidence of the black and ethnic minority community and catch the criminals we all want caught."

Shami Chakrabati, head of Liberty, said the advice to transport police was so controversial she had arranged a meeting with Ian Johnston, the transport police chief constable, next month to raise her concerns.

"This order is in real danger of breaching the Race Relations Act. You should stop and search a person who meets the description of a terror suspect, not look for needles in a haystack. We are really concerned by this. We will ask the chief constable for an explanation of this guidance. I look forward to meeting him."

The order says transport police should aim to "prevent and deter access by terrorist suspects to the transport infrastructure", including the Tube.

It says "police supervisors must ensure that officers make maximum use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 search powers in a targeted approach against individuals who match the target profile, which is males aged between 18-30 years, who may be of any racial background."

The order adds that police have a duty to promote good relations between racial groups, and advises against "disproportionate and unfair targeting of certain communities."

Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the advice sent mixed messages. "The whole thing is completely contradictory. It suggests it is open season on a couple of groups. Apart from the racial stereotyping, the parallel concern is that the guidance is so vague. It seems to be a tacit invitation to stop and search people from these racial groups. It's very bad policing."

After the July 7 attacks, Mr Johnston provoked a row when he said that his officers should "not waste time searching old white ladies". Hazel Blears, a Home Office minister, said that stop-and-search guidelines would "not discriminate against Muslims." The British Transport Police said the chief constable believed that policing should be "intelligence led".

A spokesman said: "We are dealing with a terrorist attack from a particular source which is Islamic international terrorism and these are the people at that time who were responsible for these attacks. But it is not saying that they may be responsible in the future.

"The people who carried out [the July attacks] are not representative of the British population. We are trying to stop people particular to the threat.We are saying to our officers, not all Asian people are terrorists but given we are looking at Islamic terrorists - if we were looking for Irish republican terrorists we would not be stopping Asian or black people."

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