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The Met Police was today taking a firm line with, er, the Met Police as it referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over allegations of misuse of its powers.

Today’s referral follows an incident claimed to have taken place on the morning of Wednesday 29 July 2009 when two men approached a 43-year-old man walking from Woolwich Arsenal station towards the bus station in General Gordon Square, with his 11-year-old daughter and his neighbour’s six-year-old daughter.

The complainant claims that one of the men identified himself as a plain clothes police officer and carried out a stop and search of all three individuals, supposedly under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

He has further complained that they seized his mobile telephones, USB sticks and a CD, and that he and his children were then subjected to a street search. Finally, he says, he was required to stand in front of a CCTV camera in order to have his photograph taken, as well as having to have his photograph taken by the officers.

The complainant further alleges that the police provided no information as to when he could retrieve his goods or who to contact in order to do so, and that they have failed to get in touch with him on these matters, despite assurances that they would.

There is little doubt that the police may use section 44 powers in this way. Once an area is a "designated area" for purposes of the Terrorism Act, a police officer may stop any individual and carry out a search without having to show "reasonable suspicion" of links to terror.

Until recently, the whole of London was a "designated area" for the purposes of the War on Terror. However, following widespread criticism, the Met has put in place a more targeted policy, signed off in July by the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, which now restricts Section 44 to pre-identified areas – in theory areas near to potential terror targets - in every borough of London.

Concerns have been raised also at the way in which section 44 powers have been used against children. Official Met figures suggest 2,331 children aged 15 or under were stopped in 2008 – and of these, 58 were under 10. A spokeswoman for the Met confirmed that the powers would be used as appropriate and that the stop and search legislation "covers people, not ages".

Neither the Met nor the IPCC were prepared to release any further information on this incident. However, the IPCC did confirm that they are now managing the investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service’s Directorate of Professional Standards, which means that an IPCC investigator has direction and control of the investigation and an IPCC Commissioner has oversight.

This may be considered to be an indication of the seriousness with which the event is being treated, since standard procedure in many forces is to commence the investigation internally – and to hand it out to the IPCC if the complainant is unsatisfied with the eventual outcome.

IPCC Commissioner Mike Franklin, who leads on the issue of Stop and Search, said: "The use of Section 44 stop and search powers is a very sensitive issue and it is right that complaints of this nature are taken very seriously.

"It is particularly worrying that two young children were allegedly searched in this way. This investigation will look at whether the use of these powers in this case was lawful, reasonable and correctly carried out." ®

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