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Explosion of Mandatory Police Searches on British Citizens

By Mick Meaney – RINF |

Last weekend Lancashire police and the Lancashire County Council’s Safer Travel Unit began stop and search procedures on members of the public travelling to and from Lancaster bus station.

The ‘Gateway Check’ consisted of 2 airport style metal detectors, handheld metal detectors and frisking travellers as they left the station.

When questioned about the operation, one officer stated: “Due to recent anti social behaviour and knife crime on buses we are trialling this method as an attempt to deter knife crime, we are currently randomly searching every fifth person,” the officer did not have anymore information.

In total around 30 police officers descended on Lancaster bus station to carry out unwarranted searches on members of the public.

Speaking to RINF, one member of the public who had witnessed the searches said: “My initial thought on coming into the bus station was that something major had happened, my jaw hit the floor. I travel by bus at least twice a day and I have never seen any anti-social behaviour.

“I am alarmed at these measures, I think it’s horrible and will be checking my rights because I catch the bus so often. I’m not afraid to stand up to the police and I had to compose myself before I asked a police officer why people were being searched. It makes me so angry. What are they doing to my home town?”

On further investigation of what is classified as “anti-social behaviour” Lancaster police & Lancashire County Council’s Safer Travel Unit told us:

  • litter
  • smoking
  • shouting
  • fare evasion
  • any criminal act
  • persons wanted on warrant
  • music from mobile devices
  • placing feet on seats
  • bullying
  • throwing missiles

Rick Wilson, Lancashire County Council’s Safer Travel Unit manager, said: “The work of the Safer Travel Unit is all about helping people to feel safe and happy when they are on public transport – and that includes school pupils too.

“The checks aim to deter and detect crime, vandalism, graffiti and anti-social behaviour on buses and have made significant improvements to the safety and security of the bus network.

“When anti-social or criminal behaviour on buses is reported to the Police and the Safer Travel Unit, we have a duty to work together to resolve the problems being caused. Acts such as causing damage, smoking, swearing, shouting, fighting, playing loud music and banging on windows – things that make responsible passengers feel unsafe – will not be tolerated.’”

According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the police can stop and search any person, vehicle, and anything in or on the vehicle for certain items. However, before they stop and search they must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find:

  • stolen goods, or
  • drugs, or
  • an offensive weapon, or
  • any article made or adapted for use in certain offences, for example a burglary or theft, or
  • knives, or
  • items which could damage or destroy property, for example spray paint cans.

There is an exception to this rule. If a serious violent incident has taken place, the police can stop and search you without having reasonable grounds for suspecting they will find the items.

The police can also search a football coach going to or from a football match if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting there is alcohol on board or that someone is drunk on the coach.

When the police stop to search you, they must provide you with the following information or the search can’t begin:

  • proof of their warrant card
  • information on police powers to stop and search
  • your rights
  • the police officer’s name and police station
  • the reason for the search
  • what they think they might find when they search you
  • a copy of the search record.

In all of these situations where the police have a right to stop and search, they should not require you to take off any clothing other than an outer coat, jacket or gloves. The police can do a more thorough search in private, for example, in a police van. The search must be made by a police officer of the same sex.
If you are arrested, the police can search you for anything you might use to help you escape or for evidence relating to the offence that has led to your arrest.

In some circumstances a police officer of the rank of inspector or above can give the police permission to make stops and searches in an area for a certain amount of time – as long as this is for no more than 24 hours. When this permission is in force the police can search for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments whether or not they have grounds for suspecting that people are carrying these items. An officer with the rank of assistant chief constable or above, can also give permission for searches in an area in order to prevent acts of terrorism.

The desire to stop and search citizens is nothing new but it has been increasing dramatically over recent years.

In 2006 after a 3 month trial on the London Underground, Alistair Darling gave the go-ahead for nation wide roll out of weapon scanners at major train stations.

Sniffer dogs have also been used for “weapon” detection.

Later in the same year police began using biometric scanning systems on members of the public at shopping centres, pubs, nightclubs and took swabs from citizens to see if they had been in contact with narcotics or explosives.

This month police began using a metal detector and sniffer dogs on an unprecedented scale.

During an operation at a pub in Wellingborough they did not find any weapons but made several arrests for small amounts of drugs; a few wraps of cocaine, a small number of ecstasy pills and small amounts of cannabis. Sergeant Tom Griffin said: “This is a piece of equipment that has been made newly available to us, and we can put it up anywhere we wish, such as at events and venues.”

Nobody was arrested for supplying and all narcotics found where for personal use.

The motives of the police have to be questioned. All official word from the police claim they are looking for weapons but seem to be focusing more on looking for small amounts substances used for recreational purposes.

Last week officers in Wales also made 5 arrests for possession of drugs while using a metal detector at a train station. Again no weapons arrests were made.

Ipswich police also targeted night clubs with metal detectors and an Ion Track machine for taking swabs from members of the public. Small amounts of cannabis, cocaine and heroin were found during the operation, but no weapons.

The Ion Track machine can detect the equivalent of a grain of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, in seconds it can detect a trillionth of a gram. The results cannot be used as evidence but they can lead officers to perform searches.

The machine can also be used covertly by taking swabs from areas such as toilet cubicles.

In Accrington Sergeant Ian Corbett, who led the aptly named ‘Operation Shepherd’ said: “The detector is a new piece of kit which can be deployed anywhere and at short notice.”

A mass increase of nation wide surveillance has been on the agenda for years, in 2007 leaked Home Office documents showed plans for x-ray cameras that see through clothes being built into UK lamp posts.

The European Union is pushing for these 3D virtual strip search cameras to be placed at airports by 2010. Germany strongly opposed the plans along with Gareth Crossman of British human rights organisation Liberty.

Mr Crossman, the director of policy at Liberty, said: “I don’t think people are aware of what these scanners can do and how demeaning it is to have your body on display. Heathrow was right to discontinue their use and they should not be used in Britain except as an alternative to strip searches.”

Also from 2010, all police forces will have mobile biometric fingerprint readers that have instant access to the Ident1 biometric database which contains around 7.5 million prints.

Geoff Whitaker of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) said other biometrics such as facial scans could be added later.

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