Police defend Essex terror searches

POLICE in Essex have searched more than 3,500 people under terrorism laws in just one year - compared to just 195 in neighbouring Kent and none in Suffolk.

POLICE in Essex have searched more than 3,500 people under terrorism laws in just one year - compared to just 195 in neighbouring Kent and none in Suffolk.

The force defended the figures last night, despite concern voiced by human rights group Liberty.

The Home Office revealed 3,741 searches were made in Essex during the 12 months up to April 2005.

But Robert Chambers, chairman of Essex Police Authority, gave his backing to Chief Constable Roger Baker and put it down to “proactive policing” and activity at Stansted Airport.


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He said Essex Police was determined not to miss “any opportunity” to prevent terrorist activity and that he believed the force was proactively preventing such crimes.

He said: “I suspect the reason behind the high figures is because we had some sort of intelligence and acted upon that.

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“Of course Stansted Airport is a factor. As the airport grows and we have more and more passengers we have to make more checks. We have to check who is coming into the country.”

Both Norfolk and Suffolk officially recorded no searches during the same period, while neighbouring Kent - of a similar size and population - made just 195 under the new terrorism laws.

Mr Chambers said some forces had taken a more “proactive approach” to the legislation, but vowed officers in Essex would not stop and search members of the public without reason.

He added: “Safety is of the paramount importance and we aim to be up front.

“Central to what we're trying to do is to get the message across that Essex is a very safe county but, with regards to terrorism, there could be people (in Essex) who wish to carry out terrorist attacks anywhere in the country.

“The likelihood of something happening in Essex is low, but it could happen.”

Sir Alan Hazelhurst, Saffron Waldon MP, which covers Stansted Airport, said he was confident the high number of searches was just part of terrorism prevention.

He said: “No one has written to me over the last two years saying we are restrictive - most say we're not doing enough.”

He said the figures were an “inevitable result” of having a border control at a major airport in Essex.

But Doug Jewell, campaigns co-ordinator at Liberty, claimed “anyone” would be concerned that the number of stop and searches carried out under the Terrorism Act could vary so widely between neighbouring police forces.

He said: “Liberty is especially concerned that some might conclude those with high figures were using the powers inappropriately.”

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