Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report


6 Use of the anti-terrorism powers

141. Evidence from Muslim witnesses was unanimous in considering both the anti-terrorism legislation and its application to be detrimental to community relations and contributing to the stigmatisation of Muslims.[148] In addition to the detention of foreign Muslims at Belmarshan issue which we did not examine for the reasons set out in paragraph 45witnesses particularly cited the rise between 2001-02 and 2002-03 of over 300% in stops and searches of Asianssee paragraphs 49-51. (The figures for 2003-04 came out too late for witnesses to comment on them to us.) In this section we look first at Muslim perceptions and official views of the use of stop and search powers, then we briefly consider detention before release without charge before moving on to perceptions of arrests under the Terrorism Act. We conclude by looking at other issues of relations between police and minorities.

Stops and searches

142. The Muslim Council of Britain expressed deep concern over stops and searches. They believed that those stopped and searched were unclear as to why they had been stopped and that officers of the MPS themselves "are under-trained and not clear as to how, why and when they should be using these powers".[149] The Metropolitan Police rejected this criticism, saying that officers, both as recruits and throughout their careers, were trained in how to exercise stop and search powers; Detective Superintendent Tucker of the Metropolitan Police Diversity Directorate added:

"We are now trying to bring in a new type of training that aims to emphasise what a good stop is, which is looking at what the outcomes are and a key point of that is leaving the person who has been stopped, if they are not arrested, with a very good impression of the officer, so that we do not create difficulties for ourselves in the future."[150]

143. The MCB also drew our attention to the Metropolitan Police Authority's scrutiny of stops and searches carried out by the MPS.[151] This concluded that stops and searches in London had a disproportionate impact on Black and minority ethnic people and made a number of recommendations to the MPS and other bodies. Detective Superintendent Tucker, of the MPS Diversity Directorate, told us that four of the 31 recommendations to the police had been implemented and that work was in progress on the remainder, in co-operation with the Authority and with community groups. He argued that, and although more would be implemented within a year, other recommendations were long term and could not be implemented as quickly.[152]

144. ACPO argued that the figures for stops and searches on Asians (cited in paragraphs 49-51) was not unreasonable given that 80% of the stops and searches were in London, where the Asian population is 13%, and were mainly carried out in "parts of London surrounded by large Asian populations".[153] The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) observed that 90% of the stops and searches in London took place in four specific areas.[154] ACPO also argued that stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists was "bad policing" and likely to be counter-productive and said that their guidance to officers and staff warned against Muslim profiling. They described the use of Section 44 stops and searches to disrupt and deter terrorist reconnaissance of potential targets as "of critical importance".[155] Chief Constable Baggott also pointed to the City of London as an example of a large number of stops and searches being carried out with only a 'handful' of complaints, all of which had been resolved informally or withdrawn.[156]

145. The Home Office said that they were concerned about any issues of disproportionality and that they had responded to community concerns with the creation of a Stop and Search Action Team to look at these issues in relation to stop and search powers generally.[157] The Minister of State added that there was now an independent Community Panel as part of the Action Team, which included Muslim representatives, who, she had no doubt, "will be saying some fairly robust things to us about operation and that is exactly as it should be."[158]

Tip-offs

146. The MCB also noted that when the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police had been urged to investigate the tip-offs to the media before the arrests of Iraqi Kurds in April 2004, he had concluded that it was impractical to investigate, although he acknowledged that the source might well have been members of his force. The Council concluded that:

"The blithe manner in which complaints from the Muslim community are dealt with give the strong impression that they are being discriminated against and that their rights can and will be breached with impunity."[159]

147. The Editor of the Daily Mail told us "it is frequently in the political interests of the police or the government that the media reports arrests of terror suspects and our attention is deliberately drawn to such activity."[160]

148. Police witnesses acknowledged the damaging effects of such tip-offs. Chief Constable Baggott observed that such investigations were "incredibly difficult", because of journalists' reluctance to reveal their sources, while Detective Superintendent Tucker believed that there had been comparatively few leaks, despite a number of cases last year that would have been of considerable interest to the media.[161] On the particular case mentioned by the MCB, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police had told us in July 2004 that he did not believe that it made it more difficult to have a productive relationship with the Muslim community and that links with the Kurdish community had improved "quite drastically"; he argued that lessons had been learnt and that a similar operation later had been carried out without publicity. He also said that the publicity had been "hugely damaging" and that he had been "incandescent with rage" to learn of it.[162]

Recording stops and searches by religion

149. The Muslim Council were concerned about the fact that stops and searches are not recorded by religion, suggesting that this added to suspicions that Muslims were being profiled.[163] The Commission for Racial Equality, in their evidence for the July 2004 single evidence session on anti-terrorism powers mentioned in paragraph 147, said it was essential that data be collated by race and faith for a range of activities, including stops and searches, arrests, convictions and releases without charge.[164] Similarly, the Police Federation described current collection of monitoring data on stops and searches as 'simplistic', arguing that it obscured issues of sexuality, age, religion or disability, and observed: "the reality is that discrimination may be occurring but we are not looking in the right places".[165]

150. As noted in paragraph 49, the Home Office submission defended the current system on the grounds that the religion of a suspect is not relevant to the offence for which they have been arrested. But the Minister of State told us that the independent Community Panel of the Home Office's Stop and Search Action Team would be looking at the issue in the near future and that she awaited their recommendations with interest. She believed, however, that this was a controversial issue. Not only did some people feel religion was a private matter which they would not wish to declare, but also in cases in which people had been asked to declare their religion, there had been "perverse reactions". The statistics that were gathered might therefore not be robust enough.[166]

Police intelligence

151. The Muslim Council also suggested that the intelligence used by the police should be subject to independent scrutiny.[167] We asked police witnesses whether this was feasible: ACPO told us that although the idea presented some practical difficulties, they had already discussed it with the Muslim Safety Forum.[168] Chief Constable Baggott added:

"The issue of public confidence is such that if you could have some degree of confidential, independent assessment that did not undermine the fundamental human rights of the sources and other issues of grave operational importance we would be very open to that and support that."[169]

152. We note that the stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act have been used very varyingly by forces across England and Wales and that the large majority of such stops and searches have been carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service: in these cases the proportion of Asians stopped and searched is very close to their proportion in the population of London. We also note that the proportion of Asians stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act fell in 2003-04. We do not believe that the Asian community is being unreasonably targeted by the police in their application of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act or of the other legislation enabling stops and searches.

153. Nonetheless, we accept that there is a clear perception among all our Muslim witnesses that Muslims are being stigmatised by the operation of the Terrorism Act: this is extremely harmful to community relations. We recognise the efforts being made by police forces, notably by the Metropolitan Police Diversity Directorate, to engage with minority communities. But we believe that special efforts should be made by the police and Government to reassure Muslims that they are not being singled out unfairly.

154. We have no doubt that this perception is fuelled by the high profile reporting of some police raids and arrests. Such coverage also helps to fuel more widespread fears of the Muslim community. It is particularly damaging when little coverage is given when suspects are subsequently released without trial. It seems clear that some of the most sensational coverage has sometimes been caused by unauthorised briefing from within the police service. It is essential that police forces take firm action against any officers or staff involved.

155. We believe that there should be independent scrutiny, involving the Muslim community, of police intelligence and its use as a basis for stops and searches and arrests. We do not recommend adding religion to extensive information already required on stops and searches, but do believe that some additional research could be carried out into the impact of these police tactics on different religious groups.

156. It may also be the case that stops and searches of Asians under legislation other than the Terrorism Act are nonetheless perceived by Muslimsbut not by Hindus or Sikhsas being related to terrorism. This possibility should be examined by the Home Office's Stop and Search Action Team.

Detention before release without charge

157. Statistics on the length of time that individuals are held under the Terrorism Act before released without charge are not collated centrally. These are important since they might indicate whether the counter-terrorism detention powers were being used to harass minority communitiesthe evidence is that this sort of detention was a significant factor in alienating Irish opinion in the days of IRA terrorism.[170]

158. We believe that statistics on the length of time that individuals are held under the Terrorism Act before being released without charge should be collated centrally and published as soon as possible, since they will be an important indicator of whether the counter-terrorism detention powers are being misused. They should also show whether the extension of the period of detention without charge to 14 days, permitted since early 2004, is being used.

Arrests under the Terrorism Act

159. Muslim witnesses emphasised their view that stops and searches under the Terrorism Act led to a disproportionately small number of arrests and charges; the research by the Institute of Race Relations (noted in paragraph 55) was also cited as evidence that anti-terrorism powers were being used to discriminate against Muslims.

160. ACPO noted that yearly figures showed a fall in arrests and told us that a 50% charge rate against arrests was "pretty good".[171] The Director of Public Prosecutions said that this proportion was "about right for serious crime" and argued that conviction rates would be high (as had traditionally been true for terrorism offences), but, as noted in paragraph 55, that because cases were now working through the criminal justice system, it would be up to two years before reliable figures would become available.[172]

161. We are concerned by the lack of detailed information about arrests under the Terrorism Act. To maintain public trust, it is vital that statistics about arrests, charges and convictions under the counter-terrorism legislation be as detailed and reliable as possible. In particular, cases involving domestic terrorism should be clearly distinguished from those arising from international terrorism.

162. Within the constraints of the sub judice rule and any reporting restrictions, the Government should also examine ways of publicising the number of current trials for terrorism-related offences.

Relations between the police and minorities

163. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) expressed particular concern over police accountability. They pointed to a survey they had conducted which suggested that 39% felt there would be no benefit in complaining to the police and noted that the rise in stops and searches of Asians was not accompanied by a commensurate rise in complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.[173] Mr Nick Hardwick, Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, told us that Asians generally had the least confidence in the complaints system and least confidence that if they did complain, the matter they complained about would be dealt with effectively and seriously.[174]

164. The Hindu Forum said that concerns were growing in the Hindu community that security issues involving them were not treated as seriously as those involving other communities.[175] Both ACPO and the Metropolitan Police told us about their contacts with the Hindu and other communities, and Detective Superintendent Tucker denied that security issues affecting the Hindu community were treated less seriously than those involving Muslims: he did acknowledge that in one high-profile case the police could have looked more broadly at the impact on the community as a whole.[176]

165. Submissions from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police Diversity Directorate and the Crown Prosecution Service listed a number of ways in which these various bodies were seeking to engage with minority communities, particularly Muslims.[177] Burnley Borough Council and the Chief Superintendent of the Pennine Division of Lancashire Constabulary told us in a joint submission of their efforts to ensure that police operations contributed to community relations.[178] The Chief Superintendent of Luton also spoke about the efforts his force made to engage with minority communities, both on a regular basis and in the course of an anti-terrorist operation[179]these efforts were recognised and appreciated by the local Muslim community.[180] Similarly, the Muslim Council of Britain acknowledged that the Metropolitan Police was making efforts to engage with the Muslim Community. The Chair of the MCB's Legal Affairs Committee told us:

"As I say, the police have a hard time and we recognise that. I think that the Met Police deserve a mention. You have a Met Police Authority which is holding to account its police officers and you have a police force that has set up a Muslim Safety Forum that meets regularly with Muslim groups. There are issues about who is on there and the accountability stuff but I think those are issues of detail. The main thing is that you have senior members of the Met Police meeting with Muslim communities and coming along to meetings. […] It is also working very hard on recruitment and retention, so I think there are good examples of the Met Police doing some good work but there is clearly more that can be done."[181]

166. The Minister of State for Community Safety, Crime Reduction, Policing and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office, Hazel Blears MP, mentioned the four strands of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy: prevent, pursuit, prepare and protect.[182] ACPO argued that an opportunity had been missed by not adding 'communities' to the list. Chief Constable Matthew Baggott, Second Vice-President of ACPO and Lead on Race and Diversity, told us that the police had nonetheless made significant progress in deploying officers in vulnerable communities to build relationships and confidence. He added:

"I think that is an incredibly important part of any terrorist strategy because it is about the hearts and minds of people; it is about accessibility, it is about a whole range of confidence building issues that simply have to be the bedrock of what is built upon it."[183]

167. When asked if she believed that Government attempts to reassure the Muslim community were successful, the Minister of State said:

"Dealing with the terrorist threat and the fact that at the moment the threat is most likely to come from those people associated with an extreme form of Islam, or falsely hiding behind Islam, if you like, in terms of justifying their activities, inevitably means that some of our counter-terrorist powers will be disproportionately experienced by people in the Muslim community. That is the reality of the situation, we should acknowledge that reality and then try to have as open, as honest and as transparent a debate with the community as we can. There is no getting away from the fact that if you are trying to counter the threat, because the threat at the moment is in a particular place, then your activity is going to be targeted in that way. "[184]

168. These remarks were criticised by some in the Muslim community as "demonising and alienating" the community and as "thoroughly unhelpful" and by the National Black Police Association, which described them as "intemperate and inconsiderate".[185] The Minister responded to the Muslim Council with assurances that the counter terrorism powers were aimed at terrorists, whatever their background, not at any community, religion or ethnic group.' She added that stop and search powers would not be disproportionately used against members of any particular community.[186]

169. There is no doubt that the authorities face a real challenge in acting against terrorist suspects from within particular communities, without been seen as targetingor stigmatisingthat community. We do not believe that the Government has yet found an answer to this question, as the reaction to the Minister's comments illustrates. More needs to be done to reach agreement both on tactics and strategy and the way in which these are to be described.


148   Ev 29-32, 65-67, 73, 87-88, HC 165-II Back

149   Ev 67, HC 165-II Back

150   Q 334 Back

151   Report of the MPA Scrutiny on MPS Stop and Search Practice, May 2004 Back

152   Qq 345-346 Back

153   Ev 2, HC 165-II Back

154   Q 334 Back

155   Ev 2, HC 165-II Back

156   Q 352 Back

157   Ev 48, HC 165-II Back

158   Q 478 Back

159   Ev 68, HC 165-II Back

160   Ev 11, HC 165-III Back

161   Qq 378-379 Back

162   Home Affairs Committee, Anti-terrorism Powers, HC 886-I, Qq 62-84 Back

163   Ev 67, HC 165-II Back

164   Home Affairs Committee, Anti-terrorism Powers, HC 886-i, Ev 31 Back

165   Ev 85, HC 165-II Back

166   Q 480 Back

167   Q 122 Back

168   Q 355 Back

169   Q 357 Back

170   Paddy Hillyard, Suspect CommunityPeople's Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Britain, Pluto Press (1993) Back

171   Qq 335 and 366 Back

172   Qq 368 and 370 Back

173   Ev 67-68, HC 165-II and Qq 139-141 Back

174   Q 358 Back

175   Ev 40, HC 165-II Back

176   Qq 381-382 Back

177   Ev 2-3, 18, 23, and 60, HC 165-II Back

178   Ev 4, HC 165-II Back

179   Qq 425 and 410 Back

180   Q 426 and Ev 116, HC 165-III Back

181   Q 135 Back

182   Q 462 Back

183   Q 405 Back

184   Q 474 Back

185   The Guardian and The Times, 2 March 2005 Back

186   Ev 168, HC 165-III Back


 
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