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article imageHome Office errors lead to illegal stop and searches

By Paris Franz     Jun 12, 2010 in World
London - Thousands of people across the UK may have been stopped and searched illegally, according to figures released by the Home Office.
Powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act were used “in error” in around 40 operations after the proper authorisations were not given. In one example, the BBC reports, London's Metropolitan Police wrongly stopped 840 people in April 2004.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police denied the force had misled the public, telling the BBC, “The Met first became aware of the issue in April 2010 during the process of compiling data in answer to a Freedom of Information request. All public statements issued before that date were made in good faith and there was no intention to mislead the public.”
The Met case has sparked a trawl for errors across the country, and the Home Office has written to each of the 14 police forces concerned to alert them to the errors. It said the forces were in the process of assessing how many individuals were illegally stopped and searched and “would do their best to contact those involved.”
Corinna Ferguson, a lawyer from Liberty, the National Council for Civil Liberties, said, “We are grateful to the Government for making these blunders public but they merely highlight the ongoing dangers of secret stop and search authorisations. This is one of many objections to a power that has been found unlawful in the Court of Human Rights and has been more of a hindrance than a help to anti-terror policing.”
The Section 44 Controversy
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows police to stop and search someone without suspicion that an offence has occurred. It can only be used in specific areas on the orders of a police chief, with later approval by the home secretary.
The controversial powers have been a source of complaint for almost a decade, according to BBC News Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw. The European Court of Human Rights declared the laws illegal in January, saying they did not contain “adequate legal safeguards against abuse,” while in 2009 Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terror laws, said the use of Section 44 gave rise to more “assertions of excessive and disproportionate police action” than any other counter-terrorism measure.
The new coalition government has said it is reviewing stop and search laws, as part of a wider overhaul of anti-terrorism legislation. Given the ongoing terrorist threat, and concerns about security at the London Olympics in 2012, it is unlikely ministers will ditch the powers. Instead, Shaw predicts Section 44 will be re-fashioned so that it complies with human rights laws and is used more sparingly.
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