Met police increased use of section 60 stop and search during lockdown

Exclusive: number of people stopped with no grounds for suspicion doubled compared with previous year

The UK’s largest police force increased the use of what critics say is the most discriminatory form of stop and search during lockdown, despite a fall in crime during this period.

In May 2020, the Metropolitan police stopped and searched 1,418 people under section 60, more than double the number stopped in May 2019, data shows.

Orders under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act allow officers to stop and search people with no grounds for suspicion. Police are only supposed to authorise the use of section 60 when there has been serious violence or where there is a risk it may occur in a particular area.

Police in London issued 65 such authorisations in May 2020, a sharp rise from 13 times in April and higher than equivalent months in recent years, according to data collected by the human rights group Liberty through freedom of information requests.

It comes despite figures from the National Police Chiefs Council showing that before the Met increased stop and search during lockdown, crime levels had fallen.

Liberty has been campaigning for the repeal of the Coronavirus Act, which it credits for the surge in section 60 stop and searches, saying the legislation created a dangerous array of new state powers.

In London, black people are four times more likely than white people to be subject to a stop and search. This rises when the requirement of “reasonable grounds” is removed under section 60, to more than 11 times in London and higher elsewhere.

The director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier, said police were handed “extraordinary powers to enforce the lockdown and detain anyone who could be infectious”.

She said that early on there was evidence of “overzealous policing” and as the pandemic continued, “rapid changes to the rules were accompanied by more chaotic communications, leaving people fearing criminal sanctions for unknown offences”.

She said: “The government needs to commit to scrapping the Coronavirus Act and take this opportunity to build a public health strategy that has human rights at its heart. It’s long past time to scrap section 60 stop and search and take meaningful action on discrimination in British policing,” she said.

The Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, told the home affairs select committee that officers had stopped and searched more than 20,000 young black men in London during the coronavirus lockdown – the equivalent more than a quarter of all black 15- to 24-year-olds in the capital.

Analysis by Liberty Investigates, Liberty’s independent journalism unit, found that the police powers introduced to enforce the coronavirus lockdown have followed patterns of discrimination shown in stop and search.

This week, the campaign group sent a briefing to every MP setting out the dangers of such sweeping criminal justice powers and called for the Coronavirus Act to be repealed.

The legislation, which was passed in March, gives the police broad new powers to detain anyone who could be infectious – and hold them without a judge’s authority. But it has courted controversy and according to the Crown Prosecution Service, every single prosecution under these provisions of the Act was unlawful.

Liberty said the day after parliament passed the Act, the government introduced further powers under emergency legislation to police the coronavirus lockdown, regularly changing these without warning or justification. The legislation included regulations limiting movement and how and where people associated with each other.

Contributor

Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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