UK police forces 'still abusing stop and search powers'

Home secretary suspends 13 forces from stop and search reform scheme after report finds they failed to meet three out of five of its requirements

Most of Britain’s police forces are still failing to obey rules to prevent abuse of their stop and search powers, according to the police regulator, raising the prospect that the government will legislate to force them to do so.

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that one in seven stops may be unlawful, despite promises by police chiefs to reform.

The home secretary reacted by suspending the 13 worst offending forces from a “best use of stop and search scheme” with immediate effect. The forces will face a fresh emergency inspection in three months’ time. Another 19 are failing to meet some of the rules and have been told to improve or also face public shaming. Theresa May has threatened new laws if the police do not reform themselves, and last night her officials said the police were now in the last chance saloon.

The lead inspector on the HMIC report, Steve Otter, said the failings were “inexcusable”, undermined police legitimacy, and may even undermine public order. Otter, a former senior Metropolitan police officer who later served as the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, said: “Every single major report into disorder in this country since 1970 places stop and search as one of, if not the most important contributing factor, and those lessons need to be learned.”

The 13 forces of greatest concern failed to meet three out of five requirements of the stop and search reform scheme, which includes recording the outcome, such as whether an arrest is made. Those suspended from the scheme by the home secretary are Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northumbria, South Wales, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and Wiltshire.

All 43 forces in England and Wales signed up to the scheme to improve stop and search. The power has been dogged by several issues: it is disproportionately used against innocent ethnic minority Britons, it seldom leads to an arrest, and officers are failing to use it lawfully by stopping people only when they have reasonable grounds for suspicion. Today’s report found that 15% of stops may have been carried out without reasonable suspicion of criminality.

May said: “Forces who are signed up to that scheme must deliver on their commitments. It is unacceptable that 13 forces have been identified by HMIC as failing to comply with three or more requirements, and I have suspended them from the scheme with immediate effect.”

May wanted to legislate before the last election, but Downing Street opposed it. The home secretary has said misuse of the power poisons community relations, and HMIC did find that the overall use of the powers by police had declined.

Otter’s criticism of the police was unusually trenchant for the official inspectorate of police : “I am frustrated by the apparent lack of commitment by chief constables to ensuring stop and search is used properly and legitimately, and I am looking for police leaders to take action to address this within the next three months.”

He said fair use of stop and search was a “litmus test of legitimacy” for the police, and his report said that for ethnic minority Britons, use of the power was “a symbol of their perception that there is a culture of unlawful discrimination within the police”.

The findings were part of an HMIC report on police legitimacy, which found that most forces were treating people fairly and ethically, although five required improvement.


Vikram Dodd

The GuardianTramp

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