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Police ad urges: 'Trust no one'

A nation of bin-rummagers?

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The key to s1 and s43 searches is reasonableness and specific suspicion. There has been much debate about the use of "profiling", whereby police stop individuals who exhibit certain characteristics. A few months back, comedian Mark Thomas complained that he had been stopped for looking "too confident": the Police Complaints Commission agreed that such a stop was unreasonable, and Mark Thomas is now taking further action.

In a statement to El Reg yesterday, he said: "It is in the incidents of stop and search that protestors and indeed many black and Asian youth define their relationship with the law. Too often these stop and searches are unlawful and uncivil- this is not the way to either protect citizens rights and liberties nor is it the way to advance policing by consent, the much vaunted ideal of the police."

Lawyers for the Kingsnorth Climate Camp claim that police used s1 powers last summer in a blanket – and probably illegal - stop and search of everyone attempting to attend the camp. After a day or so, when they had confiscated sufficient items to ratchet up the level of alarm – including such lethal weaponry as board games, wigs and inflatable cushions – they switched to using their s60 powers.

Frances Wright, a member of the Climate Camp legal team, makes a direct link between police actions then and now. She said that "if the police are able to turn any deviation from 'normal' conformist behaviour into 'suspicious activity', then they effectively award themselves enormous new powers to stop and search pretty much at will.

"This is a dangerous trend, and one that Parliament absolutely needs to review now, before further damage is done."

Wright added that she believed a similar process was at work already in advance of the G20 summit in London. She added: "The Met are talking up the danger of threat, in order to create the circumstances that will allow them to implement far more draconian powers on the day." ®

Bootnote

In investigating this issue, our notice was drawn to the basis for police use of knife "arches" on the street. While many will be based on either local bye-laws or s60 powers, a good few are not, and have no statutory basis whatsoever. In such cases, we are informed, the police do not regard requesting an individual to walk through an arch as a "search".

So no warnings or legal caveats need be issued.

However, failure to walk through an arch on request is, itself, suspicious - and therefore grounds for a s1 search. QED.

(Update - A spokeswoman from the Met finally got back to us with this: "Should a person refuse to pass through a screening arch this does not in itself provide reasonable grounds to conduct a manual search. It is clearly a factor which may influence an officer in establishing ‘reasonable grounds’ and is likely to lead to questioning or other investigative measures, but it is not grounds alone to justify a search."

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