Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hey, do I look like a terrorist?

Today my husband, the Vol-in-Law, was stopped under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000. Under this law the police can stop you without cause.

The ViL said he was "too traumatised" to blog, so I offered to interview him instead? Here is our interview:

Vol Abroad (VA): Do you still have your stop-and-search receipt? We could put it on the blog.
ViL: (After some searching). No, it's at my office or maybe I threw it away.

VA: So where were you?
ViL: I was at Oxford Circus station, heading out Exit 2. I was stopped just as I came out of the ticket barrier.

I saw there were a lot of police about, in varying uniforms. Most were wearing the yellow, high-visibility jackets. But the guy who asked me to stop (politely) was wearing a Strathclyde uniform and a black armoured vest.

VA: Strathclyde? That's in Scotland.
ViL: Yeah, there were cops from all over the place. He was black with a Glaswegian accent, which was a bit surprising. He was very polite and he remarked. "You're very calm. You must have been stopped before." I informed that I had not been.

VA: What did he ask you?
ViL: First thing, he told me why he was stopping me, sort of. He mumbled something about 'recent events' but didn't say why he stopping me, per se. I did have a bulging bag, because I was carrying my gym stuff as well my work stuff in one bag.

Then he made me open my bag. But he didn't do anything. Then he asked me if I had any ID. I gave him my University staff card, which he kept for a very long time.

The actual stop and search was nothing, a peremptory look at my bag. But the record keeping involved a severe infringement of my liberty, because I had to tell him where I was going, where I lived. He took a record of my physical appearance. I'm an IC1 Male (white male), my height and described my clothing which was a blue shirt, dress trousers and black shoes. Which sounded quite smart, so I was glad I had dressed decently.

He asked me "casually", you know casual-but-you-better-answer-it, where I was from. I explained that I was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Northern Ireland (which probably explains why I was so calm) and now worked in London. He then volunteered that he was born in London but grew up in Glasgow, and commented on the fact that we'd reversed experiences.

He also asked me "what ethnicity you would describe yourself as" and he showed me a little list of ethnicities I could pick from.

VA: A little list of ethnicities? What do you think he would have done if you'd picked a different ethnicity?
ViL: Ha. His form included his description, but I guess he would have let me do it. He might have laughed, I don't know. There was a slight twinge of apologeticness about it when he asked me. The main thing I remember is constantly searching through my pockets for my staff card, I kept thinking "Does he still have it? He must have given me it back. No, he must still have it?"

He then gave me a receipt of my stop and search. Which I had in my hand as I walked down Regent Street, attracting many a curious gaze.

VA: So are you really traumatised?
ViL: Like he said, I was really calm, but it left me with kind of a bad taste. The fact was I was leaving the place at the time. I think he picked me, because I kind of caught his eye as I was walking out and I was picked to make up the numbers. The pink slip said they aren't allowed to racially profile, they can't choose to stop and search you on the basis of your age or ethnicity, and for everything but the anti-Terrorist stops, they have to have a reason to stop and search you.

It didn't seem like the kind of stop and search that had any meaningful anti-terrorist function.

Tags: London, , UK, Bombs, Terror, london explosions,, TUBE,,


Watching Them, Watching Us said...

We have a whole slew of so called "anti-terrorism" legislation, which has not kept us safe from terrorists e.g.

Terrorism Act 2000

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005

and various powers under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

The Terrorism Bill 2005 going through Parliament now will add even more.

Vol-in-Law should consider himself lucky that he was not carrying a laptop computer etc. as the story of our friend David Mery illustrates:

If Vol-in-Law had actually been arrested, they would probably have searched your home (no warrant required, forcible entry permitted), and grabbed all your computers etc.

They would have taken Vol-in-Law's fingerprints (and palm prints), DNA samples and photographs, all of which will be retained forever, even if no charges are ever brought, or if you are found not guilty.

melusina said...

That's just lovely.

I've learned, though, never look a cop in the eye. My friend and I were driving home from work one day (in Nashville, driving down Music Row) and there was a "good ol' boy" looking cop in a car beside us. I looked at him, made a funny comment with a thick southern accent, and the cop was preparing to turn right. Well, apparently he decided against it, and pulled us over. Unfortunately, my friend was driving with an expired license due to a ticket he left unpaid in North Carolina.

He still blames me for looking at the cop and making the funny comment. But the poor sod lived up to our expectations, he spoke with a thick southern accent and didn't even know how to spell Roy Acuff.