I was on London Bridge station this morning heading into work and minding my own business when two cops (well one real cop and one Community Service Officer) decided to stop me. It gave me a first hand experience of how much our rights have been eroded.
Naturally, I asked why they were stopping me. PC 1231 (he refused to give his name) said it was purely random, I was the seventh person to walk past or some such. I asked again on what grounds I was being stopped. 1231 said it was under the Terrorism Act. I politely enquired as to what grounds he thought I was a terrorist.
He said that he did not need grounds, that under Section 44 subsection 2 of the Terrorism Act he could stop and search anybody and did I understand this? I told him I understood the individual words.
He seems to be right because on the back of my copy of the Stop & Search form I found this little gem:-
“Sec. 44(1) and 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000
“There are also powers to stop and search vehicles and their occupants (44(1)) and pedestrians (44(2)) in an area, if a senior officer authorises it, to prevent acts of terrorism.
“For these three powers, the officer does not have to have reasonable grounds to suspect the individual stopped or searched of carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons or of involvement in the anticipated violence or terrorism. However these powers may only be used by police officers in uniform.”
I asked to see proof that they were in fact police officers. 1231 pointed to his number, said that he was an officer in uniform and did not have to produce ID. They would have searched me there and then in the middle of the platform if I had not objected. I was taken to the yard off Platform 16 and searched there. I suspect that the “randomness” of my selection may have more than a little to do with the fact that I am darker than the average white man, have a beard and do not wear a suit.
Incidently, he radioed my details in, asking for confirmation – and got it. Those of us who object to the Government’s proposals for ID cards on the grounds that they require the creation of a national database containing the details of every citizen have clearly lost that battle. Quite obviously, the National Identity Register already exists.
You might think that this is a minor inconvenience in the fight against Islamic terrorism but consider this – these powers exist under the Terrorism Act 2000, so they have existed since before the events of 9/11, let alone 7/7. Benjamin Franklin’s famous observation that those who give up their liberty to purchase safety will have neither has been proven correct. We lost a chunk of liberty in 2000 but as the events of 7 July 2005 proved, we have not become more safe as a consequence.
And if I had been a suicide bomber?
I would have had time to set my bomb off before being apprehended. If PC 1231 is typical of the forces defending us from Al-Qaida, then pretty soon we’ll all be bowing to Mecca five times a day.