Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Tapped on the shoulder by the Terrorist Police

Do I look like a terrorist to you? Go on, be honest. I am told I can look a bit shifty at times. But a terrorist? Really! However it seems our boys in blue have a different view.

My first meeting in London this morning was near Green Park station and the next was lunch with a Google exec in their offices near Victoria. As it was a nice day and I had a bit of time, I thought I would take a gentle stroll to Victoria through Green Park.

As I got near the Buckingham Palace end of Green Park I was approached by Officer Kevin Moloney of the Metropolitan Police. "Excuse me, Sir" he says politely "do you speak English?"

I pause momentarily, a bit taken aback. "Yes" I say. "Many black people in the UK are almost fluent in English nowadays" I add in The Queen's English, which I felt was most appropriate given that we were not far from the Palace. Actually I didn't say that last bit, I've only just thought of it. Damn. I have got to work on my real-time, witty responses.

"Ah, that's good" says PC Moloney, Warrant Number 219635 "I didn't want to waste my time saying everything only to discover that you don't understand!"

"Very wise" I sneer (actually I didn't say that either. I just said "Yes" again. However it did occur to me that he might think I only knew the word "yes" so I started to look for opportunities to use other words from the English language to prove to him the breadth of my vocabulary).

Now we got down to business. "I have stopped you under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act as I have seen you with a briefcase" says Officer Kevin.

"That is probably because I am a businessman going to a meeting" I say. I do actually say this. I am wearing a grey suit and white shirt, looking at least a bit like a businessman. I am feeling a little irritated to be honest at this point. And embarrased. But also slightly nervous. Do we do orange jumpsuits in the UK? I'm not certain.

Anyway, PC Moloney searches my briefcase as I stand there trying to look nonchalant and passers-by stare at the good policeman searching the swarthy looking gent in his cunning businessman disguise. I am hoping no-one I know wanders past. That would be strange and uncomfortable for both of us.

Kev asks for ID and I show him my driving licence. He takes it and starts to write something into a yellow notebook. Now I get interested from a data point of view. "What are you writing" I ask "and who does it go to?"

"It's just a record of my search. It doesn't go anywhere, it's just there in case someone needs to check back who was stopped and when. I'll give you a copy of it"

"Does that mean I will go on to a database somewhere?"

"Oh, no I don't think so. Only if there is a reason for it to. Otherwise it's just there in the files" he says reassuringly, although slightly uneasily as I seem to be taking an unusual interest now.

"So let's be clear" I probe "are you saying that it definitely doesn't go on to a database or that you don't know?"

Officer Moloney signs "If you want to make a complaint Sir" he says in that slightly tired policeman voice that is usually followed by a request to accompany him down to the station sir "if you want to make a complaint, I will give you the details". He gives me the name of one Inspector MacDonald of the Hyde Park unit and then he gives me my copy of the form.

Form 5090(X) is just a little bit of paper, but it carries a lot of information. My full name, date of birth, gender, ethnicity, height, address. Reason for stopping has four choices - behaviour, action, possession of an item, presence in area. Mine was "presence in area". It seems I was stopped for being "present in that area". Fair enough, given that it was definitely an area and I was clearly present in it.

"Search Grounds" was handwritten as "section 44 prevention of terrorism act in place...subject with rucksack (crossed out) briefcase". It was interesting that he instinctively wrote "rucksack" even though I was standing in front of him in a suit holding a briefcase!

At the bottom of the form are a series of codes. Mine were entered as T (for Terrorism s.44), J (for Terrorism s.44(2), as opposed to H which is Terrorism s.44(1) - don't ask me the difference) and I (there isn't an I on the codes, but I think/hope he meant 1 for No further action.).

The whole process took about 10 minutes but it felt like hours. I have never in my 45 years been stopped by the police before. I managed to miss the era of "sus laws". But I got a tiny sense of how it must have felt. Even though my old mate PC Kevin Moloney was just doing his job and was quite pleasant, I felt silly, embarrased, demeaned, powerless, annoyed and nervous. I was thinking to myself how is it that I can go from visiting Number 10, from attending Davos, from advising the UN on cybersecurity to being stopped and searched under terrorism laws in my own City? Do you think if I had mentioned to him that I am a Freeman of the City of London with the right to drive my sheep across London Bridge, he would have let me go?

On the other hand, I am very, very, very keen not to get blow up by real terrorists on the streets of London and the police and their friends in the shadows have done a marvellous job of keeping us safe over the past few years, so perhaps this is the price we have to pay. I get stopped to keep you safe. I'm sure it will happen again and I am sure I will get used to it.

But just remember, next time you see a foreign looking chap carrying a suspicious looking bag being questioned on the street by a police and you think to yourself "thank goodness they've caught that terrorist" bear in mind it might just be me on my way to lunch with a senior Google executive!


Catkins said...

I'm afraid that Officer Kevin Moloney is a liar. Your details will be held in the Met's stop and search database for 7 years, and will be accessible to the police and other government bodies.

Also, there was no legal requirement to provide your details. Please see


Unfortunately because you didn't know your rights you have willingly handed over your name, address, DOB and other personal details to be placed on a widely accessible list of people detained under the Terrorism Act. I hope for your sake no bomb goes off in the area you were searched as you might have some uncomfortable questions to answer.

In your position I'd complain about the pointless security theatre, the fact that Officer Dibble lied about the database, and his failure to tell you that you were under no legal obligation to provide your personal details.

Team Management said...

You have never been stopped before? You have clearly not been going out enough. I stopped counting after 30 times. I have to admit though that my penchant for being black and living in a white area clearly makes me the author of my own misfortune

candleman said...

steady denyin' that its racial profilin'