What a year of stop and search looks like in Tower Hamlets

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wi

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The number of people stopped and searched by police in Tower Hamlets skyrocketed last year amid a London-wide surge in use of the controversial power.

Metropolitan Police officers used their powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1989 to search people 16,483 times in Tower Hamlets in 2019: the third-highest number across all London boroughs and a dramatic rise compared to the 9,718 times the year before.

It comes as use of stop and search across London has increased for the first time in 10 years - in response, police claimed, to a surge in violent crime.

A Met spokeswoman said: "Tackling violence is the number one priority for the Metropolitan Police Service. One homicide, one stabbing, one violent incident is one too many.

"The rise in stop and search is a response to the increase in levels of violence and is part of our ongoing efforts to prevent crime, reduce injuries and save lives."

Officers carry out a stop and search on a man who avoided going through a knife arch. Picture: John

Officers carry out a stop and search on a man who avoided going through a knife arch. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Last year 20 per cent of searches in Tower Hamlets led to some form of action being taken against the person police had stopped.

The majority of searches in Tower Hamlets, on 11,341 occasions, were for drugs, but in around 3,500 cases police were searching for blades, guns and other weapons.

Most Read

Officers also stopped 949 people who were suspected of carrying stolen goods and 431 people they thought were "going equipped" - carrying tools for criminal purposes.

Just 1,786 or 11 per cent of incidents in Tower Hamlets led to an arrest. When contraband was found it was drugs 65 per cent on the time.

But 206 people were found carrying knives and bladed weapons, and 14 individuals were caught with a gun.

As a result of a search another 246 people were pulled up for possible theft and fraud offences, and 13 for possible immigration offences.

Some 93 per cent of the people searched in the borough were male and the vast majority, more than 9,900, were described by police as being of Asian origin.

Across London stop and searches have increased from 151,000 in 2018 to 268,432 in 2019 after a decade of steady decline.

But stop and search has also become less effective. In 2019, 76 per cent of searches resulted in no further action, compared to 71 per cent in 2018.

Katrina Ffrench, CEO of UK-wide charity StopWatch, said the organisation was "concerned" about the numbers.

She said: "The line has been that police want to tackle knife crime, even though in reality it is mostly used for low-level drugs offences.

"Police are adamant that stop and search saves lives, but we have argued that actually when over-used, it breaks down trust and confidence in communities."

"They want to be seen to be doing something but the power is used disproportionately for a small reward."

London-wide figures from 2019 show black people are still more likely to be searched than any other demographic, even though the rate of "positive outcomes" - incidents where something was found - was higher for white people.

Ms Ffrench added: "The grounds used to stop black people seem to be at a lower threshold and the ethnic disparity has been there all along."

In response the Met said stop and search was carried out based on "intelligence", adding: "Knife crime and street violence in the capital disproportionately affects boys and young men, particularly of African-Caribbean heritage, in terms of victims and perpetrators."

Two people in Tower Hamlets were rapped for carrying fireworks in 2019 and nine were found carrying "psychoactive substances".

Based on what was found, police also issued 457 people with penalty notices and sent 169 people a charge requisition or court summons by post.