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6 July 2010

Tories quietly abolish stop and search checks introduced after Stephen Lawrence murder

Under the radar of apparent civil libertarianism, police accountability for targeting ethnic minorit

By James Macintyre

Against the background of David Cameron’s statement about an inquiry into allegations of British involvement in torture abroad (welcomed by Sir Menzies Campbell and David Davis alike), a sinister development has occurred at home about which virtually not a dog has barked.

From Operation Black Vote:

A section of the Stop and Search forms, introduced after the publication of the Stephen Lawrence report to monitor the rate of use of these powers by individual police officers, [is] controversially to be scrapped.

The Home Office has decided that police will no longer be required to complete a form for stop and account but will still be required to do so for stop and search. This has led to real fears that this could be the prelude to the abolition of all ethnic monitoring of police power.

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This comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission threatens legal action against police forces who are unfairly targeting black and Asian communities.

The European Court of Human Rights has also rejected an appeal by the government, ruling that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which gave police the power to stop individuals without grounds of reasonable suspicion is unlawful.

The Equality Commission has recently written to five police forces threatening legal action if the over-representation of huge numbers of innocent Black and Asian people who are routinely stopped and searched is not reduced.

The commission published a damming report, Stop and Think, in March 2010, which concluded that a number of forces were using the stop and search tactic in a way that is disproportionate and racist.

The report was a comprehensive review of the use of stop and search powers across England and Wales, looking at 42 policing areas over the past five years.

In 2007/08 there were over 170,000 stop and searches conducted on Black people. If they had been stopped at the same rate as white people, there should have been only around 25,000 stops undertaken. That’s 145,000 innocent Black and Asian people who are unjustly subjected to the discriminatory use of the power.

The number of Black and Asian people stopped and searched has increased by more than 70 per cent over the past five years, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

They show that the police searched more than 310,000 black and Asian people in 2008/09, compared with 178,000 in 2004/05.

Needless to say, the excuse provided by the government is doing away with “pointless form-filling” and “red tape”. And it is true that elsewhere, Lib Dem influence on this government is enforcing good progress on civil liberties.

To go against that approach with such moves as this would be a grave mistake, and an injustice.