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Asians 42 times more likely to be held under terror law

People from ethnic minorities are up to 42 times more likely than white people to be the target of a counter-terrorism power which allows the stopping and searching of the innocent yet grants them fewer rights than suspected criminals, official figures seen by the Guardian show.

world Updated: May 25, 2011 00:13 IST

People from ethnic minorities are up to 42 times more likely than white people to be the target of a counter-terrorism power which allows the stopping and searching of the innocent yet grants them fewer rights than suspected criminals, official figures seen by the Guardian show.

The power is contained in schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows police to stop people at ports and airports for up to nine hours without the need for reasonable suspicion that they are involved in any crime.

The figures have led to accusations that police have resorted to "ethnic profiling", which they deny.

British Muslims have given written statements to the Guardian alleging that the police and the security service MI5 are abusing the power by holding people and pressing them into becoming spies.

Those stopped have no right to maintain their silence, and failure to answer questions can be a criminal offence.

Questioning can begin without a lawyer present and those stopped must pay for one themselves if they want legal representation.

The authorities fear the random nature of schedule 7 means a legal challenge could see the power struck down for being arbitrary, a counter-terrorism official said. This is what eventually happened to the part of the act that allowed stop and search in the street without any suspicion, which was ruled unlawful by human rights judges.

The uncovering of official figures by the Guardian is the first time an ethnic breakdown of who is stopped under schedule 7 has been made public.

The calculation that 42 times as many Asians are stopped as white people is based on comparing the percentage of Asians in the UK population to the percentage of those stopped under schedule 7. Ethnic breakdowns for those entering and exiting the UK are not available.

The disproportionality faced by ethnic minorities is at its most pronounced where a person is stopped and questioned for over an hour. White people make up 19% of stops, Asian people 41%, black people 10% and others (including Middle Eastern and Chinese) 30%.

Asians make up 5% of the UK population, black people 3% and others 1%. White people make up 91% of the population.

Where people are stopped and held for under an hour, the breakdown is: white people, 45% of stops; Asian people, 25%; black people, 8%; other ethnicities, 22%.