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Papers Please: TSA-Style Checkpoints at UK Bus & Train Stations

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‘Airport-style’ harassment to “help people who use public transport feel safer.”

Steve Jolly
Prison Planet.com
May 22, 2013

Travel by train, tram or bus to destinations in central England and you are increasingly likely to be greeted by Britain’s ‘yellowjackets’: the high-visibility uniforms of Britain’s police force.

Image: Sandwell Police

‘Airport-style’ security checkpoints are being rolled out at local bus and train stations up and down the UK after local pilot schemes conducted over the last two years were deemed a success by police.

The checkpoints comprise metal detector arches, drug-sniffing dogs , police pat-downs and bag searches. The reason? To “help people who use public transport feel safer.”

Over the last couple of years more and more of these ‘security’ checkpoints have been quietly introduced at local bus and train stations across the UK under a number of pretexts that simply don’t bear up to scrutiny.

One such stop-and-search operation last week (May 15th) at West Bromwich bus station in the West Midlands, was captured in this short video clip showing a police officer rifling through a man’s pockets [1] while he holds up his wallet for potential inspection. The other photographs here were tweeted by Sandwell Police on the day.

According to the police this operation and others like it are not related to the ongoing mission creep that police so often attempt to justify with their trump card of ‘terrorism’; instead they represent an increasing shift towards ‘pro-active’ policies which threaten to become a part of everyday policing in Britain today. This Youtube clip shows a ‘Day of Action’ by Sandwell Police, who took to Twitter to explain that,”the aim of this operation is to reduce crime and anti social behaviour and offer community reasurance (sic) and assist in any prosecutions,” [specifically to] “focus on drugs and anti-social behaviour.”

Quite how emptying people’s pockets can reduce ‘anti-social behaviour’ is not clear, but by the end of the day the police were busy tweeting the day’s results:

Image: Sandwell Police

Drugs dog [2] at West Bromwich bus station. Lots of people stopped but no drugs found.”

The tweets continued, We’ve had some nice feedback regarding our ‘day of action’. Thanks for your support. No crime has been reported in West Bromwich town today!”

So, with no drugs found and no crime of any kind reported, what possible value could there be in stopping and searching hundreds of law-abiding citizens? Perhaps the following tweet provides one of several possible answers: “20 people have been checked on the police national computer (PNC). Some have previous convictions for robbery so intelligence has [been] submitted.”

Leaving aside the obvious injustice of stopping and searching everybody ‘just in case’ one or two people turn out to be guilty of some wrongdoing, these indiscriminate fishing expeditions are neither an effective way to ‘catch criminals’ nor to ‘keep us safe’.

Last week’s ‘day of action’ at West Bromwich bus station is by no means a one-off, and this apparently crime-free bus station is no stranger to such police operations. In 2010 Sandwell Police launched a ‘Safer Travel’ scheme called Safer Six, a pilot scheme carried out in six towns across the region over a six week period spanning October and November. It too was branded as a “community reassurance” exercise designed “to help people who use public transport feel safer,” as one local Sergeant put it. More specifically the police explained, “Our aim is to detect people who are carrying weapons.” This video [3] shows the travelling public being herded through a metal detector arch (often described by police in Orwellian terms, as “safety arches”) before being stopped, searched and sniffed up by a police drugs dog. The operation was repeated in the autumn of 2011 and again in 2012 and was considered so successful that it is now being rolled out across the entire West Midlands region on a permanent basis. A press release [4] by West Midlands Police in January 2013 states that:

“Airport-style metal detectors popped-up at West Bromwich bus station yesterday as a police blitz on knife crime continued. Around 500 commuters of all ages passed through the portable devices – known by police as knife arches – in just four hours.”

Image: Sandwell Police

Just how successful was the operation then? Well, about as ‘successful’ as last week’s ‘day of action’:

“No knives or other illegal items were recovered in the operation. No arrests were made,” the press release reveals.

Perhaps all the knife-wielding criminals managed to avoid detection by not using buses and trains for the full six weeks? Well no, it seems that knife-wielding criminals are a bit thin on the ground in West Bromwich, as the police acknowledged:

“The decision to set up the knife arches in West Bromwich wasn’t based on there being large instances of knife crime in the town, but part of an ongoing and broader safety programme which will be replicated at bus, tram and train stations across the entire West Midlands in the coming days.”

Once again we are told that we must sacrifice our rights and freedoms in the name of ‘safety’, even though police admit that the supposed risk of harm is somewhat negligible and not the real focus of the operation anyway.

If the success of the operation is not judged by the number of arrests made, or the quantity of drugs and weapons seized, or the number of dangerous criminals taken off the streets, then what is the purpose of these exercises? Perhaps the phrase “public reassurance” could be more accurately expressed another way. How about “conditioning the public to accept the ever-growing police state by normalising such unnecesssary and demeaning security theatre.” Or “exploiting dubious safety fears to deprive citizens of their fundamental rights and freedoms.” Or how about “inverting the centuries-old fundamental legal principle that we are all ‘innocent until proven guilty’ by treating us all as suspects, demanding that we prove our innocence.” I could go on…

The following line from a well known novel accurately describes policing in Britain today:

“For distances of less than 100 kilometres it was not necessary to get your passport endorsed, but sometimes there were patrols hanging about the railway stations, who examined the papers of any Party member they found there and asked awkward questions.”

(George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four).

The truth is that these police operations aim to condition the public to accept, submit and grow accustomed to what is essentially an unlawful stop and search.

Section 1 of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) [5] does allow ‘Stop and Search’, but only if the police have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that someone has committed a crime, as explained in PACE Code of Practice ‘Code A’ (.pdf) [6]. The Code says, “There must be an objective basis for that suspicion based on facts, information, and/or intelligence which are relevant to the likelihood of finding an article of a certain kind” and “Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people” [such as ‘users of public transport’] “as more likely to be involved in criminal activity.”

A police officer needs ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you are carrying a weapon, drugs or stolen goods, or that you are a terrorist. Can any of these justifications be applied to an entire arrivals terminal at a transport hub? No, of course not.

Since checkpoints like these are being applied en masse to people whom the police have absolutely no “reasonable grounds” to suspect of criminality, the police cannot lawfully compel people to submit to such searches. Therefore the public must be doing so “voluntarily,” although somehow I suspect that they are not told this.

In the upside-down Orwellian world that we now inhabit, the only real criminals identified at West Bromwich bus station during their ‘day of action’ are the police themselves. Substitute the term ‘brownshirts’ for ‘yellowjackets’ and you get the picture.

To quote the Russian novelist who provided the original inspiration for George Orwell’s dystopian classic, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’:

“When a man’s freedom is reduced to zero, he commits no crimes. That’s clear. The only means to rid man of crime is to rid him of freedom.”

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, ‘We’.

Steve Jolly is a campaigner, journalist and spokesman for the campaign group No CCTV. He has written for the London Guardian, Big Brother Watch and Infowars. His successful campaign against ‘Project Champion’ – a police surveillance operation in Birmingham UK – forced the Chief constable to publicly apologise, scrap the scheme and remove 216 surveillance cameras from parts of the city. He was nominated for a Human Rights Award in 2010 and appeared before the UK parliament to give evidence on the Protection of Freedoms Bill about new CCTV laws. Steve writes and gives media interviews about camera surveillance and related issues.


[1] Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1UX7QXzJf8&feature=youtu.be

[2] Photo on Sandwell Police Twitter feed: pic.twitter.com/Wa1zuw08Tf

[3] Youtube video fof Safer Six operation by Sandwell Police: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB7y1SloHyM

[4] Press release by Sandwell Police: http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/np/sandwell/news/newsitem.asp?id=11884

[5] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1984/60/section/1

[6] http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/police/operational-policing/pace-codes/pace-code-a-2011?view=Binary

This article was posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 8:03 am


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