Saturday, December 15, 2007

Justice Secretary MacAskill critical of stop & search powers use

Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's Justice Secretary hits out at the British Transport Police for wide use of stop & search powers.

Perhaps Mr MacAskill can come up with better ideas for preventing a repeat of the July 7 2005 bombings in London ... or perhaps better to let the security services get on with their duty of protecting the country.

The Herald reports :

MacAskill hits out at use of terror powers

DOUGLAS FRASER, Scottish Political Editor and LUCY ADAMS

Anti-terror stop-and-search powers used by British Transport Police are risking community relations with Scotland's ethnic minorities, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said yesterday.

After June's attack on Glasgow Airport, the force, which is controlled by the Home Secretary and a chief constable based in England, was given powers and encouragement to stop and search people under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000. This requires no need for officers to have suspicion of a crime being committed or intended.

Since then, there have been 14,620 searches carried out in Scotland by the British Transport Police. According to the force's own figures, 12% of those stopped have been of an ethnic minority, while they make up only 2% of the population as a whole.

Over the course of this year until the end of November, the eight Scottish-based police forces made use of their anti-terrorism stop and search powers 135 times. During 2006, the eight Scottish forces stopped only five people under the powers. The British Transport Police inisted yesterday that its extensive use of the powers was due to intelligence suggesting the rail network could be the target for a bomb attack, and that it wants to stop terrorism and reassure the public.

But Mr MacAskill said the huge difference and "extraordinary figures" required an explanation. "It's a genuine cause for concern. Scotland is well-served by our police who work for and with our communities to protect them. Whilst we are in difficult times and it is absolutely vital that we protect our communities, we also have to protect civil liberties, too."

He added: "I think we need answers from British Transport Police on why these figures are so high - particularly when our eight local constabularies have always been able to react to similar threats and challenges yet only used these special powers on a much smaller scale."

A Scottish spokesman for British Transport Police said that the Home Secretary had invoked the powers while operational decisions were determined by the chief constable.

He said the force operated in a unique environment, with a very transient population. It had proven a target for terrorists before, including the London Underground bombings in July 2005, with intelligence suggesting railways may be a target again.

"We are there to disrupt, deter, and detect terrorism and to reassure the public and rail staff. We take terrorism very seriously."

He denied there was an anti-Asian bias in policing: "The powers are completely random. We are not targeting any ethnic minority group."

However, Osama Saeed, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Scotland, said: "Stop and search is humiliating the disproportionate number of Asian-looking people that are stopped under it, undermining good relations between police and communities which are essential at this moment in time. There must be much better uses of valuable police time."

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