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|
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.