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Terrorism search powers, a tale of paranoia and perceived Muslim threat

A brief analysis of latest dataset on police use of terrorism stop and search powers

On 13 June 2024, the Home Office released the Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: quarterly update to March 2024, of which a section is dedicated to the volume of stop and searches under the power.

Several statistics display changes in police use of terrorism stop-search powers dating back as far as 2011. A brief look at these numbers tells a tale of early 2010s paranoia over a perceived Muslim threat, one that is not reflected in the persistently low annual arrest figures.

Table S.01 (below) shows a steep fall in the number of stops and searches of persons by the Met under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, from over 1,000 in 2011 to under 200 in the year to 31 March 2024.

Number of stops and searches of persons by the Metropolitan Police Service under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and resultant arrests

Meanwhile, the annual number of arrests never exceeded 70. At very small volumes, it is difficult to make much of wild fluctuations in annual proportions of arrests from searches, but the spike in police activity in 2017/18 aligns with the political climate in reaction to a spate of attacks, notably the Manchester Arena bombing, the 2017 London Bridge attack, and the Parson Greens train bombing.

Number of stops and searches of persons made by the Met under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, by ethnicity

The time series split by ethnicity shows White and Asian people stopped far more often than other ethnicities through the 2010s and into the pandemic lockdown period, when ‘not stated’ overtakes both categories.

This indicates the increasing unwillingness of people searched to divulge information about themselves to officers. Overall, the volumes, although too small to infer much from, imply a hugely disproportionate focus on Asian people.

Number of examinations made under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, by ethnicity

It’s in the number of examinations that the volume of activity presents the most dramatic declines over time, as the annual number of examinations under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 falls from the tens of thousands for White, Asian, and Chinese or Other people in the early 2010s to the hundreds by the time of COVID-19 pandemic, where they have more or less remained since.

Number of detentions made under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, by ethnicity

Meanwhile, the annual number of detentions under the power over the same time period never exceeded 700 for any ethnicity and the numbers indicate wild fluctuations. However, we are looking at very small volumes, so there’s not much to draw from this, except that in comparison to the number of examinations made, few examinations in the 2010s found much ‘concerned with the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’.

The proportion of detentions from examinations rose significantly in the 2020s, perhaps because of the result of high-profile cases such as CAGE director Muhammad Rabbani exposing the law’s overuse.

What we’ve seen in recent years is a rapid rise in the extraction of individuals’ data, normally biometric markers (Table S.05, below). This most likely would have been a matter of routine for Schedule 7 stops resulting in arrest.

Number of persons where one or more biometric identifier was taken during an examination made under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, United Kingdom

Take, for instance, the case of publisher Ernest Moret, who was arrested suspicion of wilfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination (contrary to section 18 of the Terrorism Act 2000) by refusing to disclose the pin to his phone when asked to by officers.

For the full dataset, click on the link below.

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