I was waiting to be told what legislation / authority they were searching me under, and suddenly realised that my bag, which I had put down on a table, was already being searched. I asked what record I would get for the search, and was told that there was no formal paperwork because I was taking part VOLUNTARILY. I said that when 10 uniformed cops tell you to do something, it doesn't feel very voluntary - he said they welcomed questions at the end. I said that the end wasn't good enough, and that if it was voluntary I wanted to go now. He said that this would lead to me being questioned, (whilst physically blocking my path away from him) because it would be suspicious that I didn't want want to be searched - the search was for my own good if I had nothing to hide. As it was too late to opt out by this point (the other cops had finished searching my bag, and I was hussled through the metal detector in order to get it back), I decided there was nothing I could do, and left it.
On Monday (28.8.06) I was coming though Kings Cross station, (actually on my way to the carnival this time), and the same thing happened again. Not taken by surprise this time, when I was ushered into the metal detector queue I asked a cop if the search was voluntary. I was told that it was - I said "OK then, bye". He caught me and asked why I didn't want to be searched. I told him that unless he had a proper lawful reason to search me, then there was no obligation on me to submit to a search. He told me that I wasn't being searched - just going though a metal detector. I said that emptying your pockets and bag for police to check was being searched, but he didn't see it in the same way. He said I aroused his supicions, and that I'd be "formally stopped and searched" if I didn't comply, and again urged me to go through the metal detector. I refused, saying he'd told me it was voluntary.
He took me to his sergeant. She explained the whole thing to me again - that the search was for my own benefit, as they were only looking for knives, keeping the streets safer. I said that I understood their aims, and appreciated their position was to keep the carnival as knife-free as possible, but that I was simply exercising my right not to take part in a voluntary search, which wasn't being carried out in accordance with any particular legislation. She said it was being carried out under Section 1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, AND Section 23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, AND Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000, and that the only reason people weren't being given records of the searches was that it saved time. She then asked me if I had any metal objects in my pockets - I refused to tell her. She asked if I had any ID - when I asked if carrying ID was compulsory to travel on the Underground, she backed down. (She also told me that they were stopping people aged 18-30 at random. I guess ageism is more acceptable than the unwritten goal that targets should be 90% black and 100% male, as with the previous day. Although it does specify on the back of my Stop / Search form that "The police... cannot [in bold] detain you for a seach... just because you are, eg, young.)
The first cop said that given my refusal to go throught the metal detector, I would be searched under Section 1 of PACE 1984. I commented on the catch-all logic of searching someone under suspicion of not wanting to be searched, but he remained unmoved.
When he filled in the report of the search, he kindly asked for my input on why he'd stopped me. I said I'd refused to be searched because, although I sympathise with their stated aims of wanting to reduce knife-crime, I was unhappy about this tactic being the thin end of the wedge - that police shouldn't have free reign to distribute summary justice without accountability and without legal framework, and that if they say a search is voluntary it really should be.
He said "I've written 'Male declined to pass through metal scanner. Was uneasy about passing through scanner.' Is that OK?" I replied that this wasn't an accurate reflection of what had happened, and repeated my earlier comments. He looked at me blankly, and I gestured towards the notepad, suggesting he write them down. I also pointed out that if I'd been "uneasy" about him finding anything in my bag, I wouldn't have drawn attention to myself in the way I did. He said "Well, my feeling was that you were uneasy". I conceded that I couldn't disagree with his feelings, and he happily agreed.
I can't deny that the large police presence did pick up knives though; while I was standing being searched, an undercover cop turned up holding a flick-knife that she'd just seen two kids drop, presumably when they spotted the gang of cops. (Also, all the cops I encountered over both days were not at all aggressive, and were polite and smiley throughout - not that this a mitigating feature of their actions structurally, just that it made the experience less unpleasant personally.)
I'd be interested to hear if anyone had similar encounters with the police this weekend. Despite their protestations that all this was for our own safety, it's fairly clear that if people don't say something we'll soon end up with a police force that feels it can do whatever it wants, to anyone, all of the time. (Or rather, to a greater extent than it does at the moment.) The next step will be that it is legally allowed to do so. 'Check-points' to routinely monitor people's movements will probably appear in the future under the auspices of terror prevention. They must be nipped in the bud before they become a social norm.
For more information see www.freebeagles.org
The important thing is not to simply complain about it, but to take action, and dont let them off the hook.
"1.5 An officer must not search a person, even with his or her consent, where no power to
search is applicable. Even where a person is prepared to submit to a search
voluntarily, the person must not be searched unless the necessary legal power exists,
and the search must be in accordance with the relevant power and the provisions of
this Code. The only exception, where an officer does not require a specific power,
applies to searches of persons entering sports grounds or other premises carried out
with their consent given as a condition of entry."
Full PACE codes available from our friends at the home office: