SEIZED BY THE POLICE
By Julie Magee
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SURROUNDED: Michael Burbidge and Robert Hamlen found themselves at the centre of a police search while having a drink at the West Cliff Tavern
A LUNCHTIME pint at their local pub took a more sinister turn on Wednesday when two disabled men found themselves at the centre of a police search operation.
Bob Hamlen, 47, and Michael Burbidge, 31, were stunned when they were surrounded by uniformed officers as they sat on a bench outside the Westcliff Tavern in West Cliff Road, Bournemouth.
The pub patio area overlooks the security checkpoint at the entrance to the Highcliff Marriott Hotel where top-ranking politicians are staying during this week's Labour party conference.
Bob said: "We were treated like terrorist suspects. I've arthritis and brittle bone disease and have been registered disabled for five years.
"Michael has been paralysed down his left side since he was one and, on bad days, relies on a wheelchair and crutches to get around. He couldn't rob a bank to save his life, but they just wouldn't listen.
"It was so over the top, there were about eight officers around us asking questions which was very frightening.
"We told them we lived round the corner and this was our local pub. But, while an armed officer pointed his gun at us from the other side of the street, they made us empty our pockets and put all our possessions on the table. Then they checked all our credit cards and documents.
"I was carrying my disabled bus pass but it didn't make any difference. I needed to go to the toilet and an officer went with me in case I escaped. After radioing through the information, they asked us to accompany them, in separate police cars, to the police station.
"It was very embarrassing because some of our friends were sitting nearby. Michael suffers from stress and was getting very agitated.
"They said the reason I was being taken to the police station was because I had been seen passing a white envelope.
"But all I did was take my post out of my jacket pocket and open an electricity bill.
"On Michael's stop and search form they said they wanted to speak to him, under the Terrorism Act, because he had been looking at a police officer.
"That area of town is saturated with police officers and, from where we were sitting, it would have been impossible not to be watching one."
Bob, who has lived in the area for seven years, said: "Once at the police station we were taken to separate rooms and questioned for about 45 minutes.
"Then officers went with us to our flat and searched it before returning us to the pub. We feel violated and want an apology from the police."
The Westcliff Tavern manager Tony Cartwright said: "Bob and Michael have been drinking here for years. They are locals and two of the least likely terrorist suspects you could find."
A Dorset police spokesman said both men had attended the police station voluntarily, "Mr Burbidge gave an explanation to officers as to why he was watching police officers very closely and it would not be for Dorset police to discuss the reason he gave.
"Once officers were satisfied of the men's identities and that they posed no threat to conference security they were returned to the pub.
"Dorset police is only too willing to investigate any formal complaint they may wish to make."
Under section 44 of the terrorism act of 2000, police were granted the power to stop and search anyone without the need to show that they have "reasonable suspicion" an offence is being committed, providing the stop takes place in an area designated as a potential terrorist target.
Currently, however, the whole of London is covered by the powers, meaning the stops can happen anywhere in the city.
Furthermore section 45 states:
45. - (1) The power conferred by an authorisation under section 44(1) or (2)-(a) may be exercised only for the purpose of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism, and
(b) may be exercised whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind.
Just thought you Brits might want to know, since searches are likely to be useful to the police as a vehicle to other arrests, like possession for instance.