POLICE Scotland should end “consensual” stop and search immediately, according to an independent report.

Published yesterday, the government-commissioned report by the stop and search advisory group led by John Scott QC was blunt in its dismissal of the controversial practice.

Consensual stop and search, the report said, simply did not work. These searches, where a stopped person has to give consent and which do not require reasonable suspicion on behalf of the police officer, have been heavily criticised over the last year after it emerged police officers had been stopping and searching huge numbers of people, mostly children and mostly those in poorer areas.

Many of those stopped were unaware they could refuse to be searched. The Scottish Human Rights Commissioner had previously claimed the policy was a breach of the human rights of those stopped.

Scott’s report criticised the targeting of the searches: “The evidence we have seen, and even anecdotal submissions, support what we had understood to be the position [that] on the whole stop and search, and particularly non-statutory stop and search, is used disproportionately on children and young people, in particular young men, in Scotland.

“To a significant extent, the tactic has been used on children and young people in areas afflicted with poverty and social deprivation. The unseen consequences of dented or broken public confidence, particularly in deprived areas of the country, should not be ignored.”

It adds: “It seems clear that the use of targets, or KPIs (key performance indicators), featuring stop and search led to a proliferation in the use of the tactic, both before and following the establishment of Police Scotland.

“Even some police sources have conceded that the extent of use of the tactic took it beyond any available intelligence and best use of officer hours.”

Scott’s report concluded: “Non-statutory stop and search lacks any legal framework and is of questionable lawfulness and legitimacy, with poor accountability.”

The report said ending the practice would have no impact on Police Scotland’s ability to function properly. It recommended a code of practice backed by law should be established as soon as possible. “All searches by police officers in Scotland of persons not in custody should thereafter be undertaken on the basis of statutory powers exercised in accordance with the code of practice,” the report says.

It adds: “If non-statutory stop and search is ended, officers of Police Scotland will still be able to carry out their duties effectively. Abolition will not result in any significant gaps.”

The report also calls for a consultation on changing the law to give police power to search under-18s for alcohol when they have reasonable grounds for suspicion.Police Scotland should also provide regular and public reports and data about stop and search to oversight body the Scottish Police Authority.

In his statement in the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the practice would stop as soon as the code of conduct came into being.

Matheson said: “The current system of consensual stop and search will end once that code comes into effect.

“I have informed the convener of the Justice Committee that I intend lodging appropriate amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill at Stage 2 to give effect to this.”

Blaming “complacency from SNP ministers and police chiefs”, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “This report confirms that hundreds of thousands of people have been the subject of unregulated and arguably unlawful police searches.”

Police Scotland assistant chief constable Wayne Mawson said: “The number of consensual or non-statutory searches carried out by officers has already fallen significantly and this clear framework for the future will be reflected in our training for officers and continued work with the Scottish Police Authority in improving the transparency of information available.”

Scottish Police Federation chairman Brian Docherty said the federation could not agree with the group’s recommendation. “Consent has led to the detection of serious crimes in the past and its removal will hinder the investigation of crime in the future” he said.

Stop and search flourished unchallenged while no one was looking

Pressure on staff working at call centres ‘unacceptably high’, inquiry finds