Charles in row over police 'racism'

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The Independent Online

Prince Charles stepped into fresh controversy last night when the think-tank he heads took on Britain's police chiefs over their use of "stop-and-search" powers.

Prince Charles stepped into fresh controversy last night when the think-tank he heads took on Britain's police chiefs over their use of "stop-and-search" powers.

The Prince is president of the Police Foundation, a group which was at the centre of a major row earlier this year when it said that prison terms for users of drugs such as Ecstasy should be scrapped.

Now it has gone further, with a report calling on the police to abandon the tactic of searching people suspected of minor offences, including cannabis possession.

The findings will anger the police, who are keen to retain their powers in what they say are challenging and often dangerous circumstances. Last night the Metropolitan Police Federation, representing London's officers, attacked the new report, claiming its authors were "out of touch".

The study will also cause embarrassment to ministers who have made it clear they will support the police in their attempts to crack down on street crime. And it comes just days before Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, will tell the Tory party conference that the police must be even tougher on drug users.

The latest figures show that in London nearly 150,000 people were stopped and searched last year, mostly under suspicion of carrying drugs. This represents a third of all searches carried out in Britain.

Stop-and-search powers have caused great anger in minority communities and were described by the Macpherson report as a "universal" cause of complaint among black people.

Prince Charles has for many years championed the cause of black youngsters in inner-city areas, believing they are the victims of prejudice. And he has expressed sympathy for black rastafarians who believe they are routinely stopped by the police simply because of the way they look.

This week sees a high-profile seminar to discuss the use of stop-and-search powers, hosted by the Home Office minister Charles Clarke and due to be attended by the police, the Home Secretary's Lawrence Steering Group and representatives of ethnic communities.

Yet the Police Foundation study has been excluded from the agenda - even though it was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police and written by Peter Jordan, a former Home Office analyst.

The Police Foundation report concludes that the use of stop and search for cannabis possession "does not reflect the public's priorities" and is "biased towards detecting crime in regard of a minor offence which a significant body of opinion believes should not in any case be a criminal matter".

It concluded that ethnic minority groups feel victimised by the way the police use searches, and believe the police are "racially prejudiced".

Dr Marian Fitzgerald, who carried out separate research for the London School of Economics on the use of stop-and-search powers, agrees that they should be used more carefully. "There needs to be local agreement on what stop and search is used for. It needs to be used strategically and only for certain cases," she said.

However, Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, was highly critical of the Police Foundation. "They are not police officers and don't have to deal with the victims of serious crime or those affected by people carrying weapons," he said.

"I don't think they are in touch. All the communities say they want stop and search. You are most likely to be the victim of violent crime if you are white and aged between 16 and 24. At the moment, police officers don't feel the work they do is valued."

Last night, a Home Office spokeswoman said it was working hard to ensure that stop and search was carried out fairly, but said that the Government had a "clear view" of the damage drugs could do to families and the need for "firm control" over their use.