Friday, June 11, 2010

Illegal searches in the UK

Two stories about illegal use of "stop and search" powers in the UK today. Firstly, a court has awarded two teenagers £1,000 each in compensation after they were illegally searched at a climate change protest in 2008. The police had set up airport-style checkpoints and searched every one of the 3,500 people attending the demonstration, ostensible for weapons and tools to commit criminal damage, but in reality for flyers, stickers, leaflets, and protest materials. This was clearly unlawful, a mass search without justification, and the question now is how many of the other victims will come forward to collect compensation. Another 40 are already suing the police; hopefully the rest will join in. Sadly, the police officers responsible are not personally liable for their gross abuse of power; if they were, I think they'd be a lot more cautious about breaking the law.

Secondly, the new Conservative Home Secretary has discovered that police forces have conducted tens of thousands of illegal searches under anti-terrorism legislation, without proper ministerial approval. She has told the 14 police forces involved to contact their victims and apologise. And the UK police wonder why people don't trust them...

Hopefully this will be a start towards rolling back the culture of excessive police intrusion and surveillance which grew under New Labour over the past decade.