Thursday, Oct 4, 2007
Disabled men entered onto terrorism database indefinitely after detention and questioning
Two disabled men from Bournemouth, England were seized from a pub at gunpoint by police under the terrorism act, taken to the local police station and questioned for 45 minutes after one of them opened his mail and the other looked at a police officer.
The Bournemouth Daily Echo reports that Bob Hamlen, 47, and Michael Burbidge, 31 were dumbfounded when approached by officers in a beer garden overlooking the security checkpoint at the entrance to the Highcliff Marriott Hotel where top British politicians are currently staying for the annual Labour Party conference.
Mr Hamlen told reporters:
“We were treated like terrorist suspects…. It was so over the top, there were about eight officers around us asking questions which was very frightening.
“We told them we lived round the corner and this was our local pub. But, while an armed officer pointed his gun at us from the other side of the street, they made us empty our pockets and put all our possessions on the table. Then they checked all our credit cards and documents.
“I was carrying my disabled bus pass but it didn’t make any difference. I needed to go to the toilet and an officer went with me in case I escaped. After radioing through the information, they asked us to accompany them, in separate police cars, to the police station.”
Mr Hamlen also made it clear that he has arthritis and brittle bone disease and has been registered disabled for five years, while Mr Burbidge has been paralysed all his life and relies on a wheelchair and crutches to get around.
The two men hardly fit the description of hardcore Al Qaeda terror suspects, but then that does not matter because everyone is now a suspect under the 2000 terrorism act.
Mr Hamlen continued:
“They said the reason I was being taken to the police station was because I had been seen passing a white envelope.
“But all I did was take my post out of my jacket pocket and open an electricity bill.
“On Michael’s stop and search form they said they wanted to speak to him, under the Terrorism Act, because he had been looking at a police officer.
“That area of town is saturated with police officers and, from where we were sitting, it would have been impossible not to be watching one.”
The men were then taken to the police station and questioned for 45 minutes. After this the police asked the two men to take them to their flat so they could search it. When the search turned up nothing out of the ordinary police decided the two men posed no threat and returned them to the pub.
Mr Hamlen and Mr Burbidge, who have lived in the area for many years, say they feel violated and are demanding an official apology.
Though the two were not arrested or charged they were issued with stop and search records which will be placed on the UK stop and search database and kept there indefinitely, as per standard procedure.
Under section 44 of the terrorism act of 2000, police were granted the power to stop and search anyone without the need to show that they have “reasonable suspicion” an offence is being committed, providing the stop takes place in an area designated as a potential terrorist target.
Currently, however, the whole of London is covered by the powers, meaning the stops can happen anywhere in the city.
Furthermore section 45 states:
45. – (1) The power conferred by an authorisation under section 44(1) or (2)-(a) may be exercised only for the purpose of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism, and
(b) may be exercised whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind.
Under the rules, officers have been told to avoid “racial profiling” and “not to focus on specific groups”. The advice adds: “Be aware that there is no specific racial, ethnic, sexual or religious profile for terrorists.”
Christopher Gill, chairman of the Freedom Association, has previously commented: “These laws are terrifyingly wide ranging, and fail even to demand suspicion in order to stop someone and thus list them for life.
“They are being over-used, and innocent people are having their records marked as a result. The police are supposed to protect the innocent from the guilty, not smear their records arbitrarily.”
Incidents of Stop and search have risen dramatically recently in the UK, so much so that senior police officials are now questioning the validity of the law.
Last December the UK’s senior counter terrorism police officer questioned the value of stop and search powers, noting that very few arrests or charges arise from searches.
In February, Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair vowed to review the use of terror stop and search powers after a Metropolitan Police Authority report said it was causing “untold damage” to certain communities.
Police even refused to accept enhancements to stop and search powers earlier this year, declaring them “unnecessary” and arguing that such measures were counter-productive as they erode public trust. Such enhancements would have given police the power to ask an individual who they are and where they are going. Under the proposed legislation, withholding such information would be an offense punishable with a £5,000 fine.
Even the United Nations has warned that it fears the Counter-terrorism laws are rapidly turning the United Kingdom into a police state.
The case of Bob Hamlen and Michael Burbidge, just one of thousands, clearly demonstrates that terrorism laws are being grossly misused by police in the UK. If there really were such a huge concern over terrorism we would see an effort to protect our freedoms and enhance our open society, rather than the all out attack on civil liberties and the erosion of rights that we continue to face.
YOUR RIGHTS UNDER SECTION 44 (Courtesy Liberty):
• The police can only give you a pat down, remove outer clothes (eg jacket, hat), search your bags and have you empty your pockets
• You do not have to give your name and address
• You do not have to explain why you are there
• You are not allowed to flee the search, but you are not required to be actively compliant. You are allowed to ‘go limp’ as passive resistance during the search if you wish not to comply
• There is no permission to collect DNA data during the search
• You do not have to comply with any attempt to photograph or record you
• Women cannot be touched by male police during these searches
• Make notes about the officers searching you – name, number and police force
• Note the time and the events preceding the search
• Note the specific wording used by the police to explain their authority to search you
• Ask the police for the reason that they are searching you. Specifically, are they searching for terrorists or are they simply trying to deter, delay or inconvenience you?