BAME people about 70% of those held at UK ports under terror laws, data shows

About 70% of the thousands of people stopped at UK ports under anti-terrorism laws since 2021 were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, according to figures, which have fuelled concerns that counter-terrorist policing is institutionally racist.

The figures from police logs released to the Guardian under freedom of information laws also show that fewer than one in five people who were stopped under the same laws in this period were recorded as being white.

Campaigners say the figures are evidence that counter-terrorism laws are disproportionately affecting black and minority ethnic groups. They also say the data calls into question assertions by police leaders that counter-terrorism officers are tackling the growing threat of violence from white far-right extremists.

The figures show that of the 8,095 people stopped at UK ports in the last three years under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, 5,619 (69.4%) people were recorded as being from BAME backgrounds. In the same period, 1,585 (19.6%) people stopped under schedule 7 were recorded as white British, white Irish or white other. The ethnicity was not recorded in 891 (11%) of cases, reflecting the fact that it is not a legal requirement for police to record the ethnicity of those stopped.

The police monitoring group Netpol said the ethnicity breakdown suggested that counter-terrorist officers were underestimating the threat of far-right extremism.

Kevin Blowe, its campaigns coordinator, said the figures also challenged a controversial government review by Sir William Shawcross that said the counter-terrorist programme Prevent was too focused on far-right extremism.

Blowe pointed out that 41% of counter-terrorism arrests in 2021 were of extreme rightwing suspects. The new figures reveal that in 2021-22 only 17.2% of those stopped at ports under schedule 7 were recorded as white.

However, security services data shows that between 2018 and 2023 far-right extremism made up about one-quarter of MI5’s caseload.

Blowe said: “The figures from the logs certainly appear not to reflect counter-terrorism’s insistence on a rapidly growing threat of violence from the far right, which has seemingly led to no significant change in the ethnicity of people stopped at ports of entry.

“If there had been a greater level of attention on the far right, you would expect to see a shift in the number of white people who are stopped, but they have been pretty consistent over the years.

“Schedule 7 powers are broad and intrusive, and decisions about how they are used, without the need for reasonable suspicion, are overwhelmingly made by white counter-terrorism officers. A lack of scrutiny and accountability means the obligation lies with the police to demonstrate the use of these powers does not lead to unlawful discrimination. Our view is, their repeated failure to do so is the result of state surveillance mechanisms that are institutionally racist. It is time these powers were abolished.”

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Last month the Guardian revealed that the Metropolitan police paid a five-figure sum in damages to the French publisher Ernest Moret after he was stopped in London on his way to a book fair.

Moret, who was questioned by UK counter-terrorism officers about whether he had taken part in anti-government protests in France, was one of 4,525 foreign nationals to be stopped under schedule 7 at UK ports between 2020 and 2023.

Blowe said: “What these figures demonstrate is that Moret was far from typical: schedule 7 powers have always been used to disproportionately target people from BAME communities, both British and EU nationals.”

Anas Mustapha, the head of public advocacy at the campaign group Cage International, urged the police to record the religious backgrounds of those stopped under the Terrorism Act.

He said: “This new data reaffirms what we already know about its racist and Islamophobic impact. However, despite evidence demonstrating that the majority of those stopped are Muslim and that forces record data on religion, the government has resisted calls to produce a religious breakdown of those harassed at the borders.

“Schedule 7 is one of the most intrusive and discriminatory of all police powers. We’ve supported hundreds of British holidaymakers impacted by the policy and it’s clear that the power is abused and must be repealed.”

A Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said: “Schedule 7 is a vital tool for policing and has been instrumental in securing evidence to support the conviction of terrorists, gathering intelligence to detect terrorist threats and deterring hostile activity in the UK.

“The use of schedule 7 powers regularly features in some of our most complex and high-risk investigations and prosecutions. We face an enduring terrorist threat from overseas, and whilst we are seeing a much greater prevalence of online activity, travel remains an element of terrorist methodology that provides us with potentially crucial opportunities to act.

“Where the powers are used, there are a range of robust safeguards and measures in place to ensure appropriate usage.”


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