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Charity sounds alarm as use of stop and search in north London soars

PUBLISHED: 11:43 03 February 2020

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

The number of people subjected to on-the-spot searches in north London skyrocketed in 2019 for the first time in a decade.

Last year Metropolitan Police officers used their powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1989 to "spin" people 45,171 times in Haringey, Westminster, Barnet and Camden.

The figure is a dramatic rise on the 25,138 incidents recorded in 2018, after 10 years of steady decline in use of the controversial power.

In more than 75 per cent of cases police found nothing of interest on the person they searched, and no further action was taken.

But 5,274 incidents led to an arrest, and more than 550 other people 200 were slapped with a penalty charge or court summons.

Police were granted extra stop and search powers in Camden after a man presented at the Royal Free Hospital with stab injuries in February. Picture: Ken MearsPolice were granted extra stop and search powers in Camden after a man presented at the Royal Free Hospital with stab injuries in February. Picture: Ken Mears

Across the four boroughs, in the space of 12 months officers caught 6,293 people with drugs in their possession.

Another 678 people were carrying knives or bladed weapons. On 73 occasions, including 22 in Haringey alone, the person they searched was carrying a gun.

A Met Police spokeswoman said: "Tackling violence is the number one priority for the Metropolitan Police Service. One homicide, one stabbing, one violent incident is one too many.

"The rise in stop and search is a response to the increase in levels of violence and is part of our ongoing efforts to prevent crime, reduce injuries and save lives."

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Across London uses of stop and search by the Met have soared from 151,509 in 2018 to 268,432 in 2019: a dramatic increase after 10 years of steady decline in use of the controversial power.

But at the same time, it became less effective. In 2019 75 per cent of searches led to no further action by police, compared to 71 per cent the year before.

Katrina Ffrench, CEO of UK-wide charity StopWatch, said the organisation was "concerned" by the rise.

She added: "In reality [stop and search] is mostly used for low-level drugs offences.

"Police are adamant that stop and search saves lives, but we have argued that actually when over-used, it breaks down trust and confidence in communities."

In addition, she said, police were still targeting some demographics more than others.

In north London, people described by officers as black were four to five times more likely to be searched than any other group, throughout 2019.

The Met's own data for the past two years shows that more white people - around 25,000 - were found carrying something of note than black people: around 23,000.

Ms Ffrench added: "The grounds used to stop black people seem to be at a lower threshold and the ethnic disparity has been there all along."

In response the Met said stop and search was carried out based on "intelligence", adding: "Knife crime and street violence in the capital disproportionately affects boys and young men, particularly of African-Caribbean heritage, in terms of victims and perpetrators."

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