Second FOI request: Breakdown of Section 44 Searches

Following my first request about the number of “random” Section 44 Searches undertaken and their outcomes (detailed and analysed here), I filed a second request on 16th September 2008, asking:

Please can you clarify the meaning of ‘other’, and provide as much detail as possible on the offences for which verbal warnings were given, and arrests made. At the very least, please can you say how many of the arrests were for terrorism-related offences, what these offences were, and how many resulted in prosecutions.

K.Simmons, Policy and Support Officer for the Metropolitan Police Service, responded on 10 October 2008 with the following further information for MPS Sec44 Searches and Outcomes to Feb 2008 (the first table is the same as the one resulting from the first request):

MPS Section 44 Searches; January 2003 – February 2008
Outcome Type Description Number of Searches
NO FURTHER ACTION 140,989
ADVISED 6,834
VERBALLY WARNED 1,730
ARRESTED 2,108
OTHER 39,817
Total 191,478
Breakdown of ‘Other’ search outcome type
Outcome Type Description Total
NOT RECORDED 38,009
OTHER 1,601
PART 4 CJ – REMOVED FROM DESIGNATED AREA 145
DIRECTED TO LEAVE ALCOHOL LOCN. 26
ALCOHOL CONFISCATION 2
CANNABIS WARNING 34
Grand Total 39,817
Proportional Breakdown of Arrests following Stop and Search under S44, January 2003 – March 2008
Arrest Reason Group Arrest Reason Type Description Total As % Total
S60 ANTICIPATED VIOLENCE (S60 CJPO) 5 0.24%
S60 Total Total Section 60 Arrests 5 0.24%
S44 TERRORISM 44(2) 118 5.60%
S44 TERRORISM 44(1) 102 4.84%
S44 Total Total Section 44 Arrests 220 10.44%
PACE/ Other ARRESTED OTHER OFFENCE(S) 1,092 51.80%
PACE/ Other OTHER POWER (ANNEX A OF CODE A PACE) 240 11.39%
PACE/ Other DRUGS (S23 MISUSE OF DRUGS ACT) 198 9.39%
PACE/ Other STOP & SEARCH FOR STOLEN PROPERTY (S1 PACE) 147 6.97%
PACE/ Other OFFENSIVE WEAPONS (S1 PACE) 117 5.55%
PACE/ Other OFFENSIVE WEAPONS (S139 – CJA, SCHOOLS) 40 1.90%
PACE/ Other GOING EQUIPPED (S1 PACE) 21 1.00%
PACE/ Other FIREARMS (S47 FIREARMS ACT) 20 0.95%
PACE/ Other S.163 RTA 6 0.28%
PACE/ Other ARTICLES TO CAUSE CRIMINAL DAM 2 0.09%
PACE/ Other Total Total PACE/ Other Arrests 1,883 89.33%
2,108 100.00%

On the subject of my request to clarify the meaning of ‘other’, the response was:

We are unable to clarify what others are as there is no information on the stops form to clarify this, also we cannot tell him how many resulted in prosecutions. Some of the information needed for the reply is on the attachment below.

[I'm assuming "him" is me, and this was copy and pasted from an internal email.]

As was seen on the first request, 20.8% of all searches under Section 44 were recorded with an “other” outcome. (39,817 of 191,478 searches).

Of these, further clarification revealed that for 38,009 of these 39,817 searches (95%, or 19.9% of all searches) no outcome was recorded – but this does not mean “no further action” was taken, as these are classified separately. So what happened to this group?

For the arrests – the outcome of 2,108 of the 191,478 searches (1.1%) – the breakdown shows that Section 44 arrests – i.e. arrests that justified the initial search under the powers of Section 44 – comprise just 10.44% of the total – and the MPS can’t tell us how many of these resulted in prosecution, let alone conviction.

The vast majority of arrests – 89.33% – are for standard PACE offences, with 51.80% of the total again classified as “other” – so we have no idea what happened. Of the named offences, the largest group by far is drugs offences at 9.39%.

Section 44 Searches and my FOI requests

In August, Terence Eden was stopped and searched at Liverpool Street Waterloo station under Section 44(2) of The Terrorism Act 2000. He videoed the search, questioned the officer, blogged and discussed the incident:

I was surprised by the fact that a police officer could at any time, with no grounds for suspicion whatsoever, go through the personal belongings of a private citizen in a public place, under threat of arrest, and shared Terence Eden’s outrage at this. I was also concerned at the misuse of this power to search anyone, for anything, at any time, regardless of terrorism-specific suspicions.

I wanted to know more. Using the website WhatDoTheyKnow, I filed a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police, asking:

  • the number of such searches (random, without grounds for suspicion) undertaken since the implementation of the Terrorism Act 2000
  • the number of such searches which have resulted in further action (i.e. with a result that is not releasing the person searched without charge)
  • for those searches, what action was taken.

The Metropolitan Police have now replied with a full disclosure, which can be downloaded here, along with the full text of their reply and my request. The requested data can be summarised thus:

MPS Section 44 Searches; January 2003 – February 2008
Outcome Type Description Number of Searches
NO FURTHER ACTION 140,989
ADVISED 6,834
VERBALLY WARNED 1,730
ARRESTED 2,108
OTHER 39,817
Total 191,478

I’d hoped that my request would reveal more detail about those which were verbally warned and arrested (were these terrorism-related in any way?) but I clearly did not phrase this correctly, and will re-submit the request to clarify this. Interesting to know what ‘other’ is too.

One thing that definitely interests me is that the Police Officer in the video clearly says that the search is random, but the notes to my FOI request state:

S.44 searches are not random. The choice of persons stopped should normally be based on location, time, intelligence or behaviour by which the person brings himself or herself to the attention of police. Behaviour may include unusual actions or presence near a vulnerable location. The level of behaviour may not amount to ‘reasonable grounds’ and may be not much more than intuition on behalf of the officer. Any manner of profiling is undesirable where persons from a particular group are targeted by officers without existence of additional credible evidence.

This is somewhat confusing. To qualify for a Section 44 search the stop must not be entirely random, whatever the officer says. Is it enough to simply be in a public place at a particular time (in this case, a mainline railway station during a busy weekday) to qualify as not random?

Two other FOI requests based on this one and submitted by others are currently awaiting answers also:

Polite, on-topic and useful comments and discussion are very welcome. Others will be deleted.

UPDATE: my clarification was refused, as the investigation is closed, so I have filed a second FOI request.