Stop-and-search leap hits Asians amid terror fears

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Police stop and searches under the anti-terrorism law have dramatically increased, with searches on Asians rising by 302%, according to figures published today.

Reflecting increasing fears of a major terrorist attack in the wake of September 11, the Home Office statistics show stop and searches under terror legislation more than doubled in 2002-03 compared with the previous year.

And while figures on the total number of stops and searches carried out by officers in 2002-2003 increased significantly on the previous year, a racial breakdown shows the number performed on ethnic minorities also rose.

And overall, black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than whites, the document, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, showed.

In the previous year, they were five times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Ministers are expected to announce new moves to address ethnic minorities' disproportionate chances of being stopped.

It was understood Home Office ministers will today announce that an action team will be set up to research how powers are used and advise police forces.

Police in some areas had reduced their use of the tactic in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence report, following claims that it was being used disproportionately against ethnic minorities.

The figures published today showed a total of 21,577 searches were made under anti-terror law in 2002-03 in England and Wales, compared with 8,550 in 2001-02.

Asians suffered the highest increases in stop and searches under the Terrorism Act powers, rising 302%, from 744 in 2001-02 to 2,989 in 2002-03.

In the same period, stop and searches under the Terrorism Act rose 118%, from 6,629 to 14,429 for white people, and by 230%, from 529 to 1,745, for black people.

In 2002-03, 61% of these searches happened in the Metropolitan police area and a further 21% in the City of London.

The Met police stop and searches under the Terrorism Act have risen from 2,038 to 8,359 for whites, from 258 to 1,175 for black people and from 459 to 2,241 for Asians.

In total, 869,164 stop and searches were recorded in 2002-03 in England and Wales, a rise of 22% on the year before and the highest level since 1998-1999.

There was a 17% increase in searches for whites, a 38% increase for black people and a 36% increase for Asians.

The Home Office has also published regional year-on-year comparisons for the number of people searched per 1,000 of population.

In Avon & Somerset, the figure for black people searched per 1,000 of population rose from 46 to 83, in Merseyside searches went up from 67 to 168 and in the Met police area they rose from 85 to 114 per 1,000 of population.

The report said the most common reason for conducting a search for blacks, Asians and those of other ethnic appearance was drugs while for whites it was stolen property.

It also found that 13% of stop and searches resulted in an arrest, which was the same level as 2001-02.

There was a small fall in the proportion of stop and searches resulting in arrests for black and Asian people.

But people from black and ethnic minority groups were, in general, more likely to be arrested than whites.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission today claimed the figures were proof of Islamophobia in Britain.

Spokesman Massoud Shadjareh said: "We are quite appalled. This proves what we have been saying for the last couple of years, that there is a lot of Islamophobia and Islam profiling when dealing with terrorism.

"This indicates that this is in reality taking place and the very people who security should really rely on helping them fight terror are being alienated by these misguided and Islamophobic policies."

The commission has produced a leaflet on people's rights in relation to stop and searches which has proved popular.

Mr Shadjareh added: "It shows the level of fear these policies are creating in the Muslim community."

He added that the commission gave evidence to the Metropolitan Police's stop and search scrutiny panel and was among the organisations consulted by the Met on the issues surrounding policing in the Islamic community.