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The regime of stop and searches arrests, sweeps and raids sanctioned by the Terrorism laws - the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT) and the Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Act 2001 (ACTSA) – is degenerating into a cruel farce. The inventory of arrests and the judicial outcome highlights the tendentious and arbitrary nature of this regime: those caught up include hapless individuals with mental health problems, petty criminals and visa dodgers, and the young Asian or white Muslim revert who fits the profile – prays at a so-called ‘Wahabi mosque’, visits Internet sites dealing with Muslim causes such as Chechnya, wears the traditional dress. Over 600 arrests have led to three Muslims actually convicted under TACT - and two of them have been given leave to appeal.
While it is Muslims who are bearing the brunt of this regime, wider society too faces its consequences. Professor Geart of the LSE has put his finger on the problem - the institutional urge within the law enforcement and security organisations – if there is a power available, it will be deployed: “So there is a voracious appetite on the part of what one might call the secret state – to aggrandizing more and more power and laws – but the more they have, the more they seem to need and the paranoia and our anxiety continues” (BBC Radio 4 ‘Start the Week’, 9 December 2002)
TACT has been successfully applied to stop protestors approaching the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) conference at the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands in September 2003.
The Political establishment too is not above welcoming Police interventions that can shape public opinion and send a signal. For example commenting on the armoured vehicles in Heathrow incident in February 2003, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has observed “I mean all that stuff... tanks at Heathrow. I mean, I call that overselling." George Galloway, an outspoken anti-war MP, found himself detained at Heathrow in March 2004 while in transit to address a meeting in Belfast – the policeman on duty felt that TACT could be interpreted to stop such a visit. A leading Muslim scholar, Yusuf Motala, was also detained at Heathrow for seven hours under TACT in October 2003
There is a deep human cost to the gung ho Police tactics. In January 2003 the raid on a flat in Manchester to enforce a deportation order on an Algerian resulted in the fatal stabbing of PC Oake. The Police raid in December 2003, also involving the Territorial Support Group (TSG) on the home of Muslim family in Tooting is now a cause celebre within the British Muslim community, becoming a byword for Police brutal behaviour, notwithstanding the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to pursue disciplinary action: the decent Babar Ahmad whom family and friends vouchsafe as totally innocent was subjected to a beating by the Territorial Support Group (TSG) in which he suffered 50 separate injuries after being repeatedly kicked, punched and stamped upon, according to a medical report.
Muslim businesses too are finding themselves at the receiving end – suddenly the object of Police visits on grounds such as ‘responding to a 999 call’. The well-respected and influential Muslim Directory for example describes how one of its managers was contacted by the Met in early September 2004 and told ‘we can come in anytime we want day or night!’: “His attitude was very abrupt, intimidating and bordering on threatening”.
The root of the problem is that the anti-Terrorism laws have removed the ‘reasonable suspicion’ criteria required by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE, 1984) in order to undertake a stop and search. Under PACE, the power to stop and search served as an investigative power to be used for the purposes of crime detection or prevention in relation to a specific individual at a specific time. TACT is more wide-ranging and requires less in terms of grounds and suspicion. It makes things far easier for the Police to pick people up without due care and diligent research. The incidents presented in the inventory below frequently show charges on grounds such as possession of ‘quasi-military information’, or even carrying a battery and wires in a rucksack.
Moreover, once a
geographical area is deemed to be under terrorist threat, the Police are free
to stop and search anyone or anything within it. Every fortnight, the Commissioner
for the Met obtains an automatic renewal of an authorisation from the Home Secretary
for the whole of London!
It is not the Muslim
community alone that believes something must be done to restore the balance
between the valid need to protect society from terrorist acts and civil liberties.
In May 2004 the Scrutiny Panel of the Metropolitan Police Authority reviewed
the stop and search statistics under s.44 of TACT and concluded that steps were
needed to remove “the improper use of power”. The Joint Committee
on Human Rights comprising MPs and peers in August 2004 stated that “We
also note there is mounting evidence the powers under the Terrorism Act (2000)
are being used disproportionately against members of the Muslim community”.
Everyone, not just Muslims, have a right not to be detained without a lawful
It is not the Muslim community alone that believes something must be done to restore the balance between the valid need to protect society from terrorist acts and civil liberties. In May 2004 the Scrutiny Panel of the Metropolitan Police Authority reviewed the stop and search statistics under s.44 of TACT and concluded that steps were needed to remove “the improper use of power”. The Joint Committee on Human Rights comprising MPs and peers in August 2004 stated that “We also note there is mounting evidence the powers under the Terrorism Act (2000) are being used disproportionately against members of the Muslim community”. Everyone, not just Muslims, have a right not to be detained without a lawful excuse.-->
Statistics published by the MPA - Total searches undertaken under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act cumulative 44(i) and 44(2)