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Muslims hit by trebling in stop and search

Police used anti-terror laws to screen more than 120,000 individuals

Robert Verkaik
Friday 01 May 2009 00:00 BST

Police use of anti-terror stop and search powers trebled last year, prompting fears that the policy is alienating London's Muslim communities.

Officers in England and Wales used Terrorism Act powers to search 124,687 people in 2007/8, up from 41,924 in 2006/7, figures released yesterday showed. But only around 1 per cent of those searches ended in an arrest. There were 1,271 arrests in total but only 73 of those were for terror offences.

Nearly 90 per cent of the searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police, the country's largest force, which recorded a 266 per cent increase in anti-terror stop and search. The Government said the rise in anti-terror stop and search last year was in part linked to the failed bombings in London's Haymarket district.

But Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne, said the new figures will "only fuel the fear" that anti-terror powers are being misused. He said: "There is a real risk that indiscriminate or excessive use of stop and search may alienate the communities we rely most on for intelligence, which is a far more crucial tool in the fight against terrorism."

Corinna Ferguson, a lawyer for human rights group Liberty, said: "A threefold increase in anti-terror stop and search is the clearest signal that these powers are being misused. Only 6 in 10,000 people stopped were arrested for terrorism, let alone charged or convicted. And the disproportionate impact on ethic minorities is even greater than in previous years."

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "People will be highly suspicious about the scale of stop and search under terror laws. This will reinforce the view that anti-terror powers are used for unrelated purposes."

Under terror and non-terror powers, 1,223,860 people and vehicles were stopped and searched by police last year, a 17 per cent increase. Most police searches are carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which were up 9 per cent last year to 1,045,923, nearly half of which were for suspected drugs offences. It is the fourth year in a row that the number of stop and searches has increased.

Officers used powers to stop people and demand they account for themselves more than two million times last year, separate figures revealed.

Ministry of Justice statistics showed "stop and account" powers were used on 2,353,918 occasions in 2006/7, up a quarter from 1,601,196 in 2006/7. There were twice as many stops and searches of Asian people per head of population than of white people, a similar rate to the previous year. Black people were almost three-and-a-half times more likely than white people to be stopped on the street and questioned.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said it was important that the police have the "right powers available".

"Stop and search is aimed at disrupting crime and responding to intelligence and levels of risk. It is an important tool – helping to tackle knife crime and to fight terrorism."

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