Anti-terrorist law used against arms fair protestors

DSEi arms fair, London, 9-12 September 2003

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The Metropolitan Police are using anti-terrorist legislation against protesters demonstrating at Europe's biggest annual arms fair which was opened today by Geoff Hoon, UK defence minister, in London's Docklands. The police have invoked Section 44 of Terrorism Act 2000 which allows assistant chief constables (or the commander in the case of the Metropolitan police) to authorise extended stop and search where they

"consider it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism"

Section 44 was also used extensively during the protests and peace camp at Fairford RAF airbase in the build-up to the Iraq War (1). This is contrary to clear undertakings from the Home Secretary to the House of Commons that Section 44 notices would only be used where there is good reason to suspect terrorist activity. Protestors have already won a judicial review of police mass detention tactics during the Fairford protests (2), while Liberty has said it will seek a judicial review of the Met Police's use of Section 44 in the Docklands.

There has been much made in the press of how the police have "braced themselves for violent protests" (e.g. The Guardian, 6 September 2003) and the £1 million pound cost of the policing operation. Sixteen arrests were reported on the evening news, while inside, cluster bombs, which the exhibition organisers had last week said should not be included, were among the exhibits.

10 September update

Scotland Yard have confirmed that 23 people were arrested at the DSEi demonstration today and that there have been 102 arrests since the operation began on the 1 September. Two of these arrests were made under terrorism legislation, for "acting in a suspicious manner" near the arms fair.

It was a day of mixed messages from the authorities. The morning papers carried denials from Scotland Yard that they were using Section 40 and said that stop and search was carried out under Section 1 of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act). Later, David Blunkett, Home Secretary, admitted the use of Section 40 and asked for an explanation from the Metropolitan Police as to "why it was that they chose to use that particular part of the counter-terrorism legislation rather than wider public order legislation." Andy Trotter, deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, went on to justify the use of the legislation with tomorrow's anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the US.

(1) "Casualty of War: eight weeks of counter-terrorism in rural England", report by Liberty, Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors and Berkshire Citizens Inspection Agency (CIA): July 2003: link (pdf file); (2) "Peace campaigners win right to challenge police mass detention tactics", Statewatch News Online, August 2003: report; Liberty press release & Channel 4 News, 9.9.03; Guardian, 10.9.03; "Police questioned over terror act use", BBC News Online, 10.10.03: link

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