Belfast Telegraph

Rise in stop-and-search 'justified'

Increasing police use of stop and question powers is justified because of the Northern Ireland security threat, an independent assessor said.

The number of cases rose by a fifth in the last year. That is of concern in nationalist areas where use of the powers is seen as fuelling support for dissident republicans but police see it as a valuable tool for combating terrorism.

Independent reviewer Robert Whalley said officers were facing a serious threat from dissident republicans which was not expected to relent.

"My own judgment is that the overall increased use of these powers is justified in response to the scale of the challenge from the residual terrorist groups, and in particular the risk to life from firearms and explosives," he said.

The average number of stop and searches for each month from August 2009 to July 2010 was 560, with a total of 6,722. This compares with an average of 69 for the same period the previous year with a total of 829.

A European court verdict forced police officers to harbour suspicion that the suspect was carrying an article which could be used for terrorism before stopping and searching.

Dissident republicans were linked to all or most of the 39 attacks on national security targets this year which compared with 15 in 2008. They included six vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices on police stations, two improvised mortar attacks and six pipe bomb attacks on police barracks, three shooting attacks on police stations, shooting attacks on police officers, their close associates and an army officer.

There was also an attack at Newry courthouse, Co Down, the offices of the Policing Board and Palace Barracks army base in Holywood, Co Down. Blast and petrol bombs have been hurled at police during disturbances and Mr Whalley said there was a link between civil disturbances and paramilitary activity. Serious rioting broke out in Ardoyne in North Belfast in July this year.

Mr Whalley added: "The activities of the residual terrorist groups have been dangerous and disruptive. They have shown greater coherence in their attempts to kill police officers and security personnel, shoot at and bomb police stations and public buildings and disrupt the general public.

"Their reckless disregard of and contempt for the safety of the general public, especially children, is horrendous. They have little or no political or community support and their claim to act in the name of a long-standing political cause has been totally and universally condemned both north and south of the border."

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