The South Wales Echo has reported that armed cops are carrying out stop and searches under Section 44 of the terrorism act at Cardiff Central railway station.
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the coppers to stop and search anyone in a specific area. Before this law was introduced they could only stop and search individuals if they had “reasonable grounds” and certain criteria were met. This is no longer necessary, and in recent years we’ve seen these anti-teror powers used against anti-war, anti-climate change, and anti-capitalist protestors.
Human Rights group Liberty still insist that, “the power to stop and search under anti-terrorism powers should only be used when there is evidence of a specific terrorist threat”. But cops yesterday revealed the searches in Cardiff were not led by specific intelligence about a threat, and were instead a “routine” operation.
Sergeant Alan Muggleton from British Transport Police said:
“These operations are carried out as a matter of routine to make the railways as difficult a target for terrorist activity as possible. We hope that, as well as disrupting and deterring possible terrorist activity, it will also provide visible reassurance to the travelling public that the police are being vigilant for their safety.”
A spokeswoman from British Transport Police underlined that this was not linked to any credible threat:
“This is not intelligence-led and there is no reason to believe these areas are more at risk from terrorism than anywhere else. This is a routine operation the like of which British Transport Police carries out at various locations. It aims to disrupt and deter potential terrorist activity and we assure the public are being active in ensuring their safety.”
Just to translate from cop-ese into English: “There’s no specific terrorist threat in Cardiff, but we’re going to patrol your streets with guns and search people’s bags at random anyway, and there’s nothing you can do about it”.
We see the use of ever more draconian surveillance techniques as an invasion on our personal freedoms, and a blatant attempt to use an ill-defined yet seemingly ever-present “terrorist threat” as an excuse for the state to infringe on our everyday lives in ever more invasive ways. The fact that they are done at random lends weight to this idea.
But even if you don’t share this belief, anyone can see that sporadic random searches like this in different cities accross the country are a singularly stupid way of trying to stop terrorism on the railways. Looking for terrorists at random in a crowd of commuters is at best like looking for a needle in a haystack, and at worst will end up with ignorant rozzers stopping disproportionately high numbers of young Asian men and further alienating this group (something the Islamic Human Rights Commission are clearly worried about). And surely if a terrorist wants to blo up a train they aren’t going to try and do it in plain sight of armed police. They are far more likely to target a quiet secluded spot somewhere along the 1000s of miles of virtually unguarded track that lies outside the heavilly poiced metropolitan areas.