Government plans for new police powers to stop and question people were greeted with a barrage of criticism yesterday, after it emerged that senior police officers had neither requested the change nor been consulted. The Home Office confirmed that the power would be included in a counterterrorism bill to be announced in early June. But the vehemence and breadth of criticism led Home Office ministers to signal a willingness to compromise after the idea was also attacked by MPs, civil liberties and Muslim groups as unnecessary and harmful.
The new powers, contained in a leaked letter from the counter-terrorism minister, Tony McNulty, to Tony Blair, would make it an offence punishable with a £5,000 fine for a person to withhold their identity or refuse to answer questions. Azad Ali, chair of the Muslim Safety Forum which works to improve police and community relations, said: “This looks like the old sus laws, and will further alienate people and exaserbate the sense people have that the community is being victimised. There are enough powers for the police to do their job.”
“… the seemingly random questioning of young Asians, backed by the threat of £5,000 fines, will drive a dangerous wedge between them and the authorities. It could therefore sabotage a key weapon in our war on terror: Intelligence from within the Muslim community. In a few extreme cases, the disaffection it will breed could even drive youths into the clutches of the brainwashing extremists looking to recruit suicide bombers. The principle that police must have reasonable suspicion to question anyone must be upheld. Most UK Muslims detest the bombers. It would be disastrous if a new law threatened the unity of all Britain’s communities against terror.”
See also Melanie Phillips, who has no objection to targeting Muslims but complains that the government is proposing to “crack down on the entire population”.