The Police Must Have Power to Stop and Search Ethnic Groups; A Surprising View from Britain's Most Liberal Former Policeman

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Police Must Have Power to Stop and Search Ethnic Groups; A Surprising View from Britain's Most Liberal Former Policeman


Byline: BRIAN PADDICK FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE

Suppose two Asian gangs from different parts of the country have agreed over the internet to settle their differences in a street fight. Armed with knives and baseball bats, they make their way to your high street only to find that the police have organised a blanket 'stop and search' operation in order to disarm them.

So why are the officers telling white passers-by to open their bags and empty their pockets? Such a state of affairs might seem bizarre, but it is all too common. Police officers fear they will be accused of discrimination if they target people on the basis of their appearance, a form of political correctness which can only damage their ability to uphold the law.

Why, then, has there been such an outcry at Government proposals to bring back a bit of common sense and allow officers to stop some suspects rather than others? It has been claimed that the proposals - draft guidance from the Home Office - are a return to the 'sus laws'. They are setting the clock back, it is said, and will allow the police to directly discriminate on grounds of race.

I am a firm believer in civil liberties and a great admirer of the Liberty campaign group. However, as a former police officer, I believe such criticisms are entirely misguided, in particular the claim that the proposals amount to a return of 'sus'.

'Sus' - or being a suspected person loitering with intent to commit an indictable offence - is discredited legislation from 1824 that has long since been repealed. It was a criminal offence, not a power to stop and search, and it was at the heart of poor relations between the police and black people in Britain for good reason.

The usual evidence given in court in a 'sus' case was no more impressive than 'three car door handles, your worship'.

If a police officer saw - or said they saw - a suspect looking for an unlocked car door in order to steal, this would be sufficient to prove they were up to no good.

Regrettably, some police officers would invent evidence in order to secure a conviction. In 1978 I was at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court when one of my colleagues put a young black man in the dock. The accused man pleaded guilty to 'sus'. Yet when I spoke to the arresting officer he told me in hushed tones that the 'guilty' man had done nothing. 'He just ran away when we came around the corner and when we caught him we said he could either have an attempted burglary or 'sus' and he went for 'sus'.' As there was no need for any corroborative evidence, it was a law open to abuse, which is why it has been consigned to the legislative dustbin.

These new Home Office guidelines are nothing to do with 'sus' and everything to do with practical policing. Of course it is wrong to pick on black people simply because an officer might associate being black with criminality.

That is a matter of straightforward prejudice. The overwhelming majority of black people are law-abiding. It is equally wrong for the police to target Muslims in the crude and misguided belief that Muslims are likely to be terrorists. …

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