|'Ere we go: cops use soccer yob laws to target minorities
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said police acted “unlawfully” by using laws brought in to stop soccer violence to harass ordinary citizens.
Their finding followed a complaint by a Wolverhampton man who was stopped and searched by cops under 'section 60' powers.
The football match in question was 1,650 miles away at the time in Istanbul, where England were playing Turkey. IPCC commissioner John Crawley said West Midlands police had “abused” the power.
Ray Powell, President of the National Black Police Association, told Blink that section 60 powers had “been misused for years
disadvantaging the black community.”
The scam was discovered after businessman Ranjit Singh Sahota, 44, and his son Armarjit, 21, were followed and pulled over by a police van in Wolverhampton on 11th October 2003.
Both men and their car were searched in an incident lasting up to twenty minutes, but nothing unlawful was found. Sahota complained to the IPCC, who discovered the pair were stopped under 'section 60' powers, designed for use around football grounds where police fear an outbreak of soccer-related violence.
Under the powers, which can only be activated for a limited time before and after matches, cops do not need to prove 'reasonable suspicion' against any individual.
|Ranjit Singh Sahota
Despite the fact that Wolverhampton has a Black and Asian population of 22%, an IPCC investigation found 51% of people stopped under section 60 were from an ethnic minority.
IPPC commissioner John Crawley told Blink the disproportionality meant West Midlands police “had difficulty in defending their practices as not being racist.” A local police inspector, involved in stopping Sahota, is believed to have displayed anti-immigrant views in an interview with the IPCC.
Ranjit Singh Sahota added: “I've got no doubt in my mind now that there was a racial element to it.” He told Blink: “This demonstrates inherent attitudes towards immigrants from people in public office.”
Sahota revealed that Wolverhampton police had failed to charge a white man in 1986 with an attack on him in which he lost an eye. Police refused to accept eye-witness accounts from Asian bystanders because they were not considered 'independent', he said.
|Ray Powell, National Black Police Association president
The IPCC found that use of Section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act could only be justified if there was a football match in the area, or if soccer trouble had recently erupted in a pub screening a match.
In October 2003 neither were justified, and the match was taking place in Turkey. Yet Wolverhampton police applied 'section 60' across the whole operational area, giving cops cart blanche to stop any citizen without reasonable suspicion.
Ray Powell commented: “Section 60 has been affecting our communities for some time. I have voiced my concerns on many occasions. There needs to be clarity and direction in the use of the power.”
Powell called for a national review of section 60 stops and searches “to examine its effectiveness on preventing crime and its impact upon the BME communities.”
And he criticised the decision of West Midlands police to 'advise' an inspector over his conduct. “In this case involving Mr. Sahota, it is not enough just to advise the inspector concerned, the matter needs to be formally resolved. If this includes discipline then so be it.”
West Midlands police issued a statement which read: “We regret the experience of Mr. Ranjit Singh Sahota and his son. We acknowledge that on this specific occasion there were some procedural errors and learning points for the force and agreed that an apology was in order.”
West Midlands police had previously rejected a complaint from Sahota as 'unsubstantiated'. Crawley said: “I am in discussions with the force about the appropriate lessons to be learnt from this most unfortunate incident.
“The original police investigation into the complaint failed to adhere to good practice guidelines under which they should have explored his concern that his race may have been a factor in the decision to stop him.”