Leading article: Offensive, blunt and ineffective

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The Independent Online

The extent of the abuse of stop-and-search powers by the British police is shocking. Not one of the 101,248 people stopped and searched in Britain under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act last year was arrested for terrorism-related offences. The Government's terrorism watchdog, Lord Carlile – who is no soft touch – suggested some time ago that the powers were being over-used. But until now the egregious extent of that over-use was unclear.

Asian and black Britons are far more likely to be stopped on our streets. Some 17 per cent of those searched last year were Asian, a proportion far outweighing their representation in the general population. The same is true of black people, at 10 per cent of all street stops. Members of the black community are also 26 times more likely than white people to face stop and search under the ordinary criminal law. We learnt that last week from figures of stops under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was introduced to deal with football hooligans and threats of serious violence.

Yesterday's terrorism stop-and-search figures do not just underscore the problem of harassment by the police; they highlight the inefficacy of the powers. They are not only a crude and blunt instrument, as the civil rights group Liberty put it yesterday, but a demonstrably useless one. Worse than useless, they do harm to community relations.

True, there has been a significant fall off in stop-and-search compared with searches in 2008-2009 in the aftermath of the failed Haymarket bomb. But these powers are still being abused on a significant scale, most particularly in London. The lesson from the experience of the discredited "sus" laws of the 1980s is that the harassment of innocent black and Asian youths by the police will have a negative impact on community relations.

Terrorism cannot be fought effectively by promoting unease in communities. Alienating the very sectors on whose co-operation the authorities must rely to fight terror is counter-productive. Powers only ever meant to be used in exceptional circumstances must be restored to that purpose.

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