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Home | Friday 15th January 2010 | Issue 705

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Of the 16,761 people stopped and searched under section 44 counter terrorism laws in 2002/03, 18 were arrested in connection with terrorism, while 359 were arrested for ‘other reasons’. Of the remaining 16,384, two, journalist Pennie Quinton and activist Kevin Gillan, took their complaints against the police to the highest level.

Seven years later and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that not only were the two unlawfully abused as they made their way to a demonstration at the Excel centre arms fair but also that section 44’s random stop and search powers were too widely drawn and lacked adequate parliamentary and legal safeguards against abuse. In short, illegal.

The crucial fact about Section 44 is that allows the police to conduct stop and search without ‘reasonable suspicion’. It has been used regularly against protesters. The whole of Greater London has been designated a Section 44 zone for years.

While Quinton and Gillan were awarded £30,400 each, Home Secretary Alan Johnson was left to bleat about how the powers were an “important tool” in fighting terrorism. Ever the sore loser, Johnson announced he would take the unusual step of appealing to the court’s ‘grand chamber’ of 17 judges, which requires him to show ‘exceptional circumstances’. Johnson said until the appeal is heard the police powers would remain in place.

Since the powers were introduced in 2000 their use has exploded, with 117,000 recorded searches in 2008. Anyone that has attended a demo, taken ‘too many’ photos, looked a bit shady or not white or just looked at a copper funny knows the police have used these powers arbitrarily and will continue to do so.

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