The new Conservative Home Office Minister of State for Security, Baroness Neville-Jones, revealed on Thursday, just how incompetent the Police and Home Office bureaucracy had become under the previous Labour regime.
They could not even "rubber stamp" the controversial Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 "stop and search" without reasonable cause legal powers for Constables in Uniform.
Ministerial Statement to the House of Lords:
Terrorism: Stop and Search
10 June 2010
HL Deb, 10 June 2010, c66WS
Baroness Neville-Jones (Minister of State (Security), Home Office; Conservative)
I wish to inform the House of errors relating to those periods in the past which have recently been identified following an internal review of the authorisation process for the stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
I have to inform the House that it appears that stop-and-search powers have been used unlawfully by a number of police forces on a number of occasions. The Home Office has written to each of the police forces concerned to alert them to these errors and those forces are now in the process of assessing how many individuals were stopped and searched in the periods of invalid authorisations. They will do their best to contact those involved.
Remember, that under section 44, there is no legal power to demand your name and address, so where people have been stopped and searched and then let go (the vast majority of cases), there should be no way off contacting them to apologise or to pay them financial compensation.
However, one of the abuses of section 44 has been the sneaky "please fill in your details on this Stop and Search Form", which many people have been conned or intimidated into complying with, even by Police Community Support Officers, who have no legal powers under section 44, unless they are under the direct supervision, on the street, of a real Police Constable in Uniform.
We have first hand accounts of this sort of incompetent "intelligence gathering" malpractice
To summarise these errors, on 33 occasions authorisations were specified to be for 29 days, and two occasions when the authorisations were specified to be for 30 days, whereas the statutory maximum period is 28 days.
The text of the Act clearly says 28 days maximum.
How is it possible for 29 or 30 days to ever have been be specified in error even once, let alone at least 35 times ?
Why did nobody in the regional Police force, the Metropolitan Police Joint National Unit which is meant to coordinate such Authoristions, the Home Office / Office of of Counter Terrorism and Security, or at the Home Secretary's Private Office not check for this sort of error ?
Did the Labour Home Secretaries or other Ministers of State, not bother to actually read the details of what they were signing ?
I am aware that there is considerable concern about the operation of Section 44 stop-and-search powers going beyond these authorisation errors. The Government are committed to a wider review of counterterrorism legislation, including the operation of the Section 44 stop-and-search provisions. While I take some reassurance from the fact that no errors have occurred since December 2008 when the authorisation process was tightened, I want to assure the House that there will be utmost vigilance in future. It is with the need for this in mind that I have instructed Home Office officials unconnected with the administrative process to conduct the internal review of procedures.
Remember that these are very temporary, strictly time and location limited, extraordinary powers, which are supposedly strictly controlled.
It appears that they have become abused as if they were routine, general policing powers.
Remember also, that not a single terrorist has ever been caught red handed with weapons or explosives etc. by such section 44 stops and searches. Where there have been a few arrests, there has been plenty of "reasonable suspicion" and very often actual covert surveillance, before any arrests of terrorist suspects, under the panoply of other legal powers available to the Police.
Since the public interest in disclosure is now even more pressing, especially as the thousands of people subjected to illegal stops and searches may be entitled to an apology and / or financial compensation, Spy Blog has re-submitted the Freedom of Information Act request made originally on 14th November 2007:
Repeated FOIA request for Terrorism Act 2000 s44 Authorisation durations and geographical extent, following the illegal searches revealed by the Ministerial Statement 10 June 2010